My Super-Spy Dad: Single White Nerd [BOOK WEEK]
Growing up, I read books. A lot. Three or four books a week. They were mostly science fiction and fantasy books. The occasional bit of literary fiction. Fathers in these books were taciturn, secretive, violent, absent. Maybe the hero’s dad was King Arthur in disguise. Or a space alien. Or abusive. That was always a good one because it spurred the hero on to amazing feats of heroic heroism after which he would forgive his father and they would hug and then the hero would kiss a girl.
These warped, wounded, quirky, strong, silent fellas were pretty much the exact opposite of my father. That created a problem because I realllly wanted to be like the heroes of the books I read. I wanted to be special and wield a burning sword and kiss girls. According to the formula, I could only be special if my dad was dead (not an option) or really screwed up or at least remarkable in some way.
So I created a secret life for my father. Really, it was easy. The man already worked for the government running statistical surveys (information gathering) for the Department of Energy (which is like the CIA). He wore glasses and a pocket protector (like Clark Kent). He helped me with science and math homework (like scientists who know math). He dressed in a lot of greys and browns so as not to stand out in a crowd.
Clearly my father was a CIA agent superspy. No other possible explanation. He had created a mundane, middle class existence, complete with a somewhat pushy and overbearing chainsmoking wife, to mask his true work saving the world.
Once I understood my father’s true nature, my life became much more interesting. I was no longer just an overachieving, book-wormy, wimpy kid in glasses. No. As the son of the world’s leading, if subtle, superspy, I was now a potential target for evil-doers.
I began taking different routes to school everyday. One day I’d take a short-cut. Take the bus instead of the subway on the next day. I’d vary my pace from walking to jogging to flat sprints. At one point, I was dodging and weaving across the sidewalk when a woman behind me called out “You know, I’m not following you.”
Sure, maybe she wasn’t. But someone else probably was. I had to be careful.
Once I had decided that my father belonged to the CIA’s elite, I could truly admire the dedication with which he had constructed his cover. As someone who had no doubt killed scores of villains, he naturally had deep emotional scars. But he hid them, putting up an extremely believable front of emotional well-adjustedness.
I knew that he must go on missions to exotic locales. But I never caught him at it. He was always there. My mother would go off on business trips, conventions, stay late at work. But dad was always around. Helping with homework. Trying to cook. Making fart jokes and playing board games with me. He was slick.
From time to time, I tried to push him into revealing his true nature. I’d look at him across the dinner table and tell him I knew about his secret job. Then I’d throw something like a dinner roll at his head to make him use his super-spy reflexes. The dinner roll would bounce off his forehead and fall to the floor. I admired his dedication, letting himself get beaned in the noggin rather than give up the goods.
According to the books I read, at some point my dad would need my help to get out a jam. A rival spy agency would kidnap him. Or a band of wizards would imprison him in an ice castle. My brain kind of mushed together the tropes of all the different genres I read. I just knew that I would need to step up and fulfill some grand destiny. Because greatness ran in the family.
And so I waited. And waited.
I waited for some super-villain to appear. For some hint of Great Adversity to manifest out of the day-to-day humdrum of life. It didn’t happen.
I waited for the chance to be great. Waited for my sort of dorky dad to show me what he was really made of. It didn’t happen.
I started to feel angry and betrayed. Honestly, I was kind of a dick to my dad for a couple years there. What was the point of having a secret agent/wizard father if you couldn’t tell anyone? So what if he was dependable and funny and could spin a good story and help me with math and play board games and go out for pizza and withstand my mother’s frequent onslaughts of angsty frustration with relative grace and dignity? None of that mattered.
Except that, you know, it did. He might not have taught me to shoot or hunt commies or cast spells. But, with the benefit of hindsight, I find that he taught me more with one sentence than I learned from what probably ended up being upwards of 200 books. Time and time again, he repeated it. Best advice I’ve ever gotten:
“The first thing to do,” he’d say, “is not panic.”
The books might have taught me what it’s like to survive a rape at the hands of space pirates. Or how to hide in the shadows. Or how to disable an assailant by driving your elbow into their throat (this actually works, by the way). But those things aren’t useful when you’re staring down the barrel of a huge deadline, lost in a foreign city, and being crushed under a waterfall. Know what is useful?
So: Happy (post) Father’s Day to my dad and all those quietly heroic fellas out there who show up for their kids day after day, year after year. It’s kind of a big deal. And, really, despite what all those books say. . .it’s a lot better than being an abusive, emotionally stunted super-spy wizard.
Note: If the CIA is reading this and my dad actually IS a super spy. . .totally didn’t know that. Please don’t hurt him or me. Thanks.
featured image credit: REGUSmedia