How did two sisters get jobs with the CIA when their father was a career criminal?

U.S. Penitentiary, Atlanta, Ga.  (LOC)

U.S. Penitentiary, Atlanta, Ga. (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Why did two sisters decide to write a biography of their father when he had mostly been in jail while they were growing up and unrepentantly continued some of his illegal activities every time he got out?

What kind of letters do you suppose such a father wrote his children from jail?

“My sister and I always thought we would keep our childhood a secret.”

The triggering event was an email from an adoptee seeking information about her birth parents.

Though at the thought that her father might have been a criminal she withdrew her request for confirmation, it was enough to make Debbie Frye and Tracy Mercier start looking into their father’s life, thirteen years after his death.

The result was their 2011 book, “Our Father Who Aren’t In Heaven: A True Story of a Career Criminal.”

Their father’s propensity to ignore the rules of society started in childhood, of course.

While there were other factors, in this case, it really does seem to have been his mother’s fault. She paid little attention to him, so he sought it elsewhere.

Her granddaughters felt the effects, even years later.

“Time proved Gert was just as rotten a grandmother as a mother. She treated the children as if they were mistakes.”

What were the circumstances that led her to have so little interest in her children and grandchildren? That would likely be another book.

What stopped the effects of this neglect was Debbie and Tracy’s mother.

Through the years when her husband was absent and the eventual divorce, she was sole support of four children.

Yet, she encouraged her children to have an active relationship with their father, saying simply, “He’s a character.”

For all his faults, though, he took an active interest in being a father figure from jail, advising his children through letters.

“On Dating: Just enjoy each other’s company.”

And, to protect his teenage daughters from a distance, he encouraged one of them “to have her boyfriend write to him so he could check him out.”

“I realize it may be a little difficult writing to someone he has never met, but you can assure him I am a regular guy.”

“But you can also tell him I’m a pretty rough guy too. You can tell him that if he ever sees me fighting a bear don’t help me, help the bear.”

Just the kind of letter you want from the father of a girl you’re dating, and yet, also the protective mantle that a teenage girl needs from her father.

“On Babysitting: Remember you are responsible for their safety and it will take a little while for them to understand your rules are somewhat different than those they are accustomed to from their parents. Just be good to them (but firm) and they’ll come around to your guidance.”

“On Spanking: That is one thing I was always firm on – never to allow any child to be abused. You were all good children – I never spanked any of you. I never had to.”

“On Driving: I’ll teach you the correct way. You know there is much more to driving than steering the car and applying the brakes. You have to be able to read the other guy’s behavior also.”

He was proud of their good grades, advised them that they didn’t need to smoke to feel grown up and counseled them to get along with their mother, reminding them of the pressure she was under raising four children alone.

Though their father once left her in Florida, without the means to get home, and Tracy had to go to work to earn the fare home so she was away when she got her acceptance letter from the CIA, Tracy and her sister, Debbie, grew up, got married, had careers and children of their own.

So, the nuanced story of a career criminal and well-intentioned father makes you realize that sometimes, it’s complicated.

To order this fascinating family story from amazon.com, click on the title, “Our Father Who Aren’t In Heaven: A True Story of a Career Criminal.”

Names have been changed for reasons that will be apparent when you read the story and after thoughtful discussions with surviving relatives.

Click below for a fascinating audio interview with authors Debbie Frye and Tracy Mercier.

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Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

http://newgrandmas.com

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