My father was a smart man, perhaps brilliant. He was a scientist. I’d tell people that and describe visiting his research lab where a white rat bit my finger when I tried to pet him. If they assumed he was working on a cure for cancer or inter galactic travel it wasn’t my fault. I never told them that.
He was a researcher for a feed company. They manufactured livestock feed for optimum health and disease prevention. My father worked on the formulas. I thinkhe created it specific to the farm based on what the animal consumed naturally, but I could have made up that part. I tried to pay attention when he told me what he did, but it was so boring.
Dad was a World War II vet. I thought he might have good stories I could tell kids at school, but he told only two. They both involved vomiting. He was trained to be a fighter pilot but got airsick. So they made him a flight instructor on a base in the states. He never left the country. The other was the day his entire company ate tainted chicken salad and there were not enough toilets to handle it. He never ate chicken salad again.
Those were his war stories. Other kids talked about their fathers’ saving lives, bare handed combat, and gruesome injuries. They could have been lying, but I never called them on it. They might have asked what my daddy did in the War. Put on the spot I would have made something up to top them. I couldn’t risk my father finding out. It wasn’t the spanking I feared. It was him knowing I was ashamed enough to lie.
By the time I was in High School and wore a black arm band to protest Viet Nam I no longer cared what my father did in the War. By then I understood if he hadn’t puked, I might not have been born.
About a year before my father died my oldest brother, John, visited and made an off-handed remark about Dad’s ability to solve the daily cryptograph. “How do you do that? You must have been a code breaker.” My father laughed but had a strange look. We knew that look. He was holding something back. My brother pressed him but he shrugged, and changed the subject.
Over the next year my brother tried to get him to spill it. Dad neither affirmed or denied. We noted his body language. The face attempting to hold lips in a firm line. The averted eyes. I observed my mother’s bewildered look. “Why on earth does John think Dad was a spy?” My mother was a terrible actress and couldn’t keep secrets. If there was something to this, she had no idea.
The day after my mother’s funeral and three weeks before his own, Dad came clean. During the war he was assigned to Army Intelligence. He always joked it was an oxymoron. We didn’t know it was from first-hand knowledge.
Dad was not a code breaker. He wasn’t fluent enough in German. His mission was to uncover Communist infiltration. He spied on civilians who offered rides to hitch hiking soldiers, or took up conversations with them in bars. He didn’t mind spying on the civilians. But he also spied on his fellow soldiers and hated that. He did not turn them in until he was absolutely sure.
As he told this, he wasn’t boastful. He didn’t give details, or tell stories. He stated the facts. This was his duty. He didn’t like it, but he had to do it. He signed a confidentiality agreement. Apparently there wasn’t an end date. Or an exclusion for family.
Now I see the clues. Dad flew for business in small planes and on family vacations in jets. He never got sick. I asked about that once and he shrugged.
He had his Masters degree and only needed a foreign language for his doctorate. Rather than stay another semester he took a German proficiency test. He didn’t score high enough. I asked if he had ever studied German. He said he had a dictionary.
When my brothers and I became involved in Civil Rights and Vietnam War peace protests he warned us against them. Not because he disagreed with our positions, but because the Communists were infiltrating those movements and we were too naive to see it. Behind his back we laughed at his paranoia.
Dad didn’t say why he waited so long to tell, but I think I know. Mom would have been hurt to discover he didn’t trust her to keep quiet about this.
He knew he couldn’t trust me either.
And he was right about that. I’m telling everyone.