The Spy Who Loved Me

+ enlarge

For years, I lived under the firm belief that my father worked for the CIA. I believed it not only for the purpose of bragging rights at school, but also because if you knew my father and the fascination he seems to carry around with him in his briefcase, it’s actually a completely plausible theory. After much analysis, I decided (circa third or fourth grade) that he was definitely the James Bond type, but perhaps, in his later years, had graduated to more of the man-in-the-big-swivel-chair-giving-instructions-to-field-operatives-on-speakerphone type. In any case, I’d done my 007 homework and knew which crucial elements were required in being an international man of mystery. Thus, over time, I collected specific examples to support my premise. The final list looks something like this:

Reason My Dad Is Definitely in the CIA #1: From Russia with Love
My father always had the allure of the world written all over him. You could sense it, sniff it out, even. I feel this allure is crucial to his line of work.

Even before he got into the spy-business, my father was a world traveler. When I was younger, I loved to hear his tales of faraway lands, stories tracing from Kenya to Oslo to St. Petersburg to St. Paul. Each story felt like a precious thread strung into the intricate tapestry of his life. There were the summers spent on sea with my great-grandfather, Captain Saamen Saamenssen, the years as a Lieutenant in the Marines and Vietnam, the months spent driving from European city to city with his best friend, in an old Volkswagen with the stick shift he could barely operate.

In later years, even though I was never kept informed of the details of his missions (strictly code, I’m sure), I always knew him to be an extremely hard worker. “Work” took him on frequent business trips to the likes of, well, everywhere (cough, cough, secret missions) and his travel stories continued. As a young girl, I could only imagine that someone with so much explored territory under his belt had to be some form of super-spy, and I lived for his stories.

Reason My Dad Is Definitely in the CIA #2: The Man with the Golden Tongue
In my early twenties, when I began to notice a few holes in my theories, it only took a trip with my dad to reaffirm what I’d really known all along: he is, in fact, an undercover spy mastermind.

Example: when I was twenty, I moved to Italy for a year to study. Before my first day of Italian school, my father and I had ten glorious days to travel around, just the two us. We were making our way from Zurich to Paris and had stopped for the night in a small town in the south of France. While perusing the menu at dinner, I was reminded for the eight-billionth time that day how greatly I spat in the face of the French language every time I attempted to so much as order a cup of coffee with milk. My father insisted that the waiter would appreciate if I just tried my best (clearly his missions had never included getting to know the French) and so, with red cheekbones, I tried ordering my fish in French. Quelle surprise: the waiter had no idea what I was talking about. As I quickly tried to reorder in English, my father smiled and ordered for me … in French. The two had a pleasant laugh, probably discussed the nice year of the wine we were drinking (although how would I know?), and the waiter trotted off to place our orders. I am forgetting to perhaps mention the missing detail of this anecdote. At twenty years old, I had no idea my father spoke French.

In contrast to my dad’s class and apparent sophistication, the first words out of my gaping mouth were: “What the hell was that?”

A shrug. “Three years in high school.”


Reason My Dad Is Definitely in the CIA #3: License to Kill
The intimidation factor is key in the world of espionage. Whether you intend to go through with said threat is irrelevant; it’s the delivery of the threat that’s important. I believe my father was methodically trained in these matters.

More bluntly put: I feel sorry for any man who wants to date me, pretty much ever. I remember the first time I brought a boy over to our house. I was in seventh grade and in love and thought this poor, prepubescent boy was the best thing since chocolate-flavored cereal. At this time, he was a sweet kid, still innocent to the ways of the world and the female anatomy and my parents had absolutely nothing to worry about. My mother adored him. When I introduced him to my father, he held out his hand and said, “Hey Paul, nice to meet you.” My father glanced up from his newspaper. He scanned up and down. He raised a hand to his mustache and stroked it a few times. His head tilted down, but two blue, beady eyes looked up at us from his recliner. Then he said in a voice two octaves lower than usual, “That’s Mr. Nelson to you, son.” I’ve never a seen the color drain from a boy’s face so fast.

As we escaped into the kitchen, I turned just in time to see my dad’s face disappear behind his newspaper … with just the tiniest hint of a smile. Apparently there were a few perks to the intelligence world, after all.

Reason My Dad Is Definitely in the CIA #4: Dr. Know-How
No agent is properly prepared for the spy world without extensive knowledge and background on … everything. You must be agile with a weapon and keen to Puccini’s arias. You must be collected and quick-minded in the face of disaster. You must be able to reason with even the most irrational of criminals … and kids.  

I did ballet for one year, when I was five. When it came time for our end of the season recital, I vaguely remember the thrill of anticipation, and the promise of stage lights and glory to come. My big moment was a duo on stage with my best friend, Jackie, and I had my dance down to a tee.

When it was time for the big number, the two of us went out in our tutus, twirled, and … stopped. I looked over at my partner, who was crying with her tulle soaked in blood. She had managed to get the mother of all nosebleeds at the precise moment that we went onstage. And so, in front of the auditorium of parents, I also stopped and started to cry. There we were, the two of us, blood and tears and tutu, being escorted off the stage by our red-faced dance instructor, on the home videos of every parent in the audience.

My dad met me in the hall. I don’t remember what exactly was said; I remember pacing back and forth together along the empty corridor. I remember explaining to him that I cried not because I felt sorry for Jackie, but because I was angry—she’d ruined my dance, after all. How could she? I remember the look on my father’s face, doing me the favor I’ll remember forever, of taking a five-year-old in a yellow tutu completely seriously as she explained why she was gypped in her dance number, and how she could never face the world again. And somehow—by means of spy tactics, I’m sure—he leveled with me, convinced me that the show must go on, they were going to run the duo again in the second act after Jackie’s nosebleed cleared up, and that I must be brave and perform for the world again. I’m still convinced that night was one of his hardest cases to crack, but in the end, his tactics proved sound, and I got back onstage to perform.

Reason My Dad Is Definitely in the CIA #5: …What Else Would He Do?
Like many kids, I had no idea what my dad really did for years. He went to an office in the big city every day that I hadn’t seen, but envisioned with rotating walls and cases of camera pens and microphone pins. All I knew was that, in spite of maintaining international affairs and the safety of all humankind, he was there for my traveling basketball games, helped me study for my history tests, and even feigned a genuine interest when I modeled my prom outfits for him. Even now, when adulthood has been shamelessly thrust upon me, I find it hard to make an important final decision (fashion excluded) without consulting him first.

Only in the last year—sadly, hesitantly—have I surrendered to the notion that he might, in fact, do what he says he does. But in the end, the point is moot; I figure I would have worshipped him either way, and still do today. Besides, even if he has brushed off my well-observed theory for all these years, a real spy would have to deny it to the end, after all…


Loading comments...