I have been wanting to read Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron ever since Lisa’s review of it.
Despite the mention of the CIA in the title, it’s not the primary focus of the book. Ian didn’t know his dad was involved with the CIA until his mid-teens. There had been odd “business trips” when he had thought his father was out of work, his mention of having met people (like President Ford) whom he would not likely have crossed paths with, etc., but the pieces didn’t come together until Cron’s teens.
Cron grew up in England until his father’s work took the family back to the States, where the family set down roots. Cron describes his Irish Catholic upbringing mostly humorously but with a few poignant moments as well. In fact, there is a humorous slant to much of Cron’s writing, but not in connection with his father’s alcoholism. The book focuses primarily on the effect Cron’s father’s alcoholism had on his life: the embarrassment, the anger, the missed concerts, the lack of good example and teaching, the bad example, the lack of relationship.
“’Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.’ That’s what John Edward Pearce said. But what if your childhood was a train wreck? What if your memories of home are more akin to The Shining than The Waltons? It doesn’t matter. Home is not just a place; it’s a knowing in the soul, a vague premonition of a far-off country that we know exists but haven’t seen yet. Home is where we start, and whether we like it or not, our life is a race against time to come to terms with what was or wasn’t” (p.3).
Ian went from trying to be a “good boy” to win his father’s approval, to trying to be a “bad boy” to get his attention. As happens all too often, he began following in his father’s footsteps with drinking, and then went further with drug experimentation.
But the story is also one of redemption. Though tenderhearted towards spiritual things as a child, Ian felt God had let him down by not answering his prayers concerning his father, and he was highly resistant to any kind of Christian influence. But God brought him to the end of himself. Coming to believe was one step, but overcoming his own alcoholism took much longer, and facing and dealing with the buried emotions and the psychological effects of his relationship with his father took longer still.
As the daughter of an alcoholic, I could identify with much that Ian wrote. Somehow I never had the thought that so many kids have that it must be all my fault. (I knew my dad’s problems were his own. I did learn to lay low and stay under the radar either when he was drinking or when he was angry, and to this day I have problems interacting when I think someone is angry. My first instinct is to retreat.)
Some of the quotes that stood out to me:
“Boys with fathers who, for whatever reason, keep their love undisclosed begin life without a center of gravity. They float like astronauts in space, hoping to find ballast and a patch of earth where they can plant their feet and make a life. Many of us who live without these gifts that only a father can bestow go through life banging from guardrail to guardrail, trying to determine why our fathers kept their love nameless, as if ashamed.”
“My father’s psychological and emotional problems so consumed his visual field that he had trouble seeing anyone but himself , much less a lost, father-hungry kid.”
The author definitely has a way with words, and the book is filled with many descriptive phrases. One disadvantage to listening to the audiobook rather than reading a paper or electronic version is that one can’t flip back through the pages, and I didn’t mark as many quotes as I should have (one can “bookmark” with an audiobook – but not while driving or cooking 🙂 ). The writing seemed a little disjointed in some places, being more thematic than linear. But there is light humor as well as deep sadness, poignancy, beauty and grace. I think those of us who are more conservative need to be reminded that God sometimes uses seemingly unconventional ways and means to reach a person, and that we’re not all cookie cutter Christians.
At one point the author says that many of the Christians he knew, I think in his college years, were fans of John McDowell and C. S. Lewis, but he could never get into them, because he didn’t want to parse God, he wanted to experience Him ecstatically. While I do agree that our Christianity needs to be experiential and not just academic (and I think that’s what he was trying to convey), I have a couple of problems with this line of thinking. For one, voices in our heads aren’t always trustworthy. For another, those men are hardly “just” academic, and many are ministered to by their writings and by thinking through the issues they address. The Bible has a lot to say about knowledge and doctrine. I’ve referenced this here many times before, but Peter had one of the most wonderful experiences possible when he saw Jesus transfigured before his eyes, yet he calls the Scripture (a more sure word of prophecy” – more sure than even that experience (II Peter 1:16-21).
Although I think the book is a worthwhile read, I could not recommend it unreservedly. To me the humor slips into irreverence sometimes, there are a few instances of crudeness (jokes about men’s private parts), the theology was a little wonky in some places. I think this book would be especially good if you or someone within your sphere of influence has had an alcoholic parent or a strained relationship with one.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)