My father, the spy

Tokyo, Japan

August 1980

I’m sitting in my bedroom staring at the wall. I feel like I’m in one of those fun houses in an amusement park, where everything seemingly familiar has become strange and unpredictable. Angles and perspectives have shifted. And it’s sinking in slowly that this is not a temporary situation. I’ve entered into a new paradigm, and I can’t go back.

We were eating dinner at Peacock restaurant earlier tonight when Daddy announced that he had something really important to tell me, and that I couldn’t tell ANYBODY. He’s never looked so intense. His tone scared me. When we got home, he went upstairs and said he’d call for me. I sat in the silent living room. After a minute, I picked up the phone. “It’s Johanna,” I whispered to a friend. “My dad’s acting really strange. He’s scaring me. He told me that—“

“GET OFF THE PHONE!” Daddy screamed from the top of the stairs. “NOW!”

“Gotta go,” I rattled, and hung up, my body shaking.

“Don’t call ANYBODY!”

“Okay! OKAY!” I shouted back, crying now.

I sat in the dark, aware that my life was about to change.

“Okay, come up.”

I entered their bedroom and he was sitting on the bed, wearing his Japanese robe, holding a cocktail, lighting a cigarette. I sat at the end of the bed. 

“What do I do for a living?” he started. 

“You’re a businessman,” I answered. 

“Yes. I am. But I have another job. I work undercover for the CIA.”

What? My eyes bugged out of my head. “You’re a SPY?!” He nodded, trying to hold back a smile. “OHMYGOD. You’re like James Bond?” I shot up with excitement. “You mean you wear black and sneak into other people’s houses?”

He laughed out loud. “Hardly,” he said.

He said he thought I was mature enough to be told now, even though I am just fifteen. He said John and Kristin were told when they were sixteen. Then, he told me about his work and his other existence. He even elaborated on some family memories, filling in blanks I never knew existed. We talked for a couple of hours.

It felt like Daddy had just told me I was adopted.

 “What should I say when people ask me what you do?” I asked.

“Be yourself and say what you always have. You won’t be lying. It’s still true. I am a businessman. I have two jobs.“ I nodded, uncertain. “Don’t worry,” he said, hugging me. “Everything will be the same.”


Nojiri, Japan

November 1980 

“So, Johanna, what does your father do again?”

My heart skips a beat as I reply with my mundane answer: “He’s a businessman.”

I’m sitting at the dinner table in a small mountain cabin, hours from Tokyo, spending Thanksgiving weekend with the missionary family of one of my best friends.

“What exactly does he do here in Japan?” His eyes are fixed on me. He seems to be confirming a rumor I hadn’t believed. He is against American spies in this country. He wants them out.

“He’s a buyer,” I say, as I accept the passing plate of green beans. (Answer like you always have, I hear Daddy saying. Be the person you were before August, I tell myself.)

I pass the plate along to my friend, who knows nothing. I accept the next plate, grateful for this distraction.

“Hmmm, so he has to live in Japan for his job?” His gaze remains fixed. He is perfectly still amid the plate maneuvering. I nod my head and try to keep my expression innocent. He lingers for a few more seconds. Then, he turns to take a plate.

The once-warm cabin has become cold, and I can’t eat. I want to go home. I feel like a hostage. I count the hours to tell Daddy. 

I’ve acted in school plays, but this may be the acting job of my lifetime.

Everything is not the same.

McCloy ’86 is a freelance writer/editor, SAG-AFTRA actor, and director of Veggie Happy. She recently edited her mother’s memoir, Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant: Undercover & Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother.  


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