Like many other readers, I suspect, I was drawn to this book in part by those three big letters --- CIA --- in the title. But the fact that it was written by Ian Morgan Cron, author of CHASING FRANCIS: A Pligrim’s Tale, made it at least as intriguing to me as the promise of espionage did. Cron is a fine writer, and I had little doubt that this book would live up to his last.
I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, the book was something of a surprise, a compelling, poignant unfolding of the story of Cron's life told with piercing wit and spiritual insight and more than a little agony. Born to privilege, the son of an alcoholic spy and a mother who numbered celebrities among her friends, cared for by a delightful English nanny, Cron may not seem to be the kind of person to write a memoir that resonates with the masses. But masses of the faithful are likely to find their stories mirrored in Cron's quest for an unshakable relationship with his loving heavenly Father and an intimate relationship with his earthly father, who couldn't show his love, much less express it in words.
What his father lacked --- the ability to express his love in words --- his son exhibits in spades. Cron's love for God and the people in his life permeates the pages of his memoir, even when human love was hard for him to find. From his first real encounter with God, through years of his own alcohol and drug abuse, to his return to the God who never abandoned him, Cron recounts his life of faith with unflinching honesty, courage, and good-natured self-deprecation.
Catholic and ex-Catholic readers in particular should love the hilarious account of his first communion; Protestants will get a kick out of it as well. And fans of Jean Shepherd, best known today for giving us the movie A Christmas Story, will delight in Cron's humorous and touching chapter-long tribute to the man whose late-night radio show saved his adolescent life at a time when his raging father made his life hell.
As to his father's work for the CIA, if you're looking for tantalizing details about furtive, top-secret encounters, you won't find them here. Well, except for that time his father stared down Castro at opposite ends of a bridge, presumably during a spy exchange. But the lack of heart-racing, pulse-pounding accounts of espionage activity (which Cron was not and is still not privy to) is fine; that's not the point of the book. What's relevant is the bewildering thoughts and emotions of a young boy who had no idea why his father, who presumably only worked for a movie studio, missed so much of his childhood, suddenly disappearing for weeks and months on end without explanation. It wasn’t all that unusual for kids during the Cold War to imagine that their frequent-flying fathers lived a glamorous secret life as a spy, but when it turns out that your father actually was a spy, the glamour apparently fades quickly, as it did for Cron.
This is so much more than a memoir. Expect to find yourself putting the book down for several minutes at a time to allow your heart and mind to digest what you’ve just read --- and expect to reflect on what you’ve read for days to come.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir