Book Review: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

 Ian Cron’s poignant, often laugh-out-loud funny, ‘memoir of sorts’ is the story of a lonely, frightened boy who grew up with an abusive alcoholic father – a man who just happened to work (at least occasionally) for the CIA.  It is ultimately a story of redemption and an exquisitely drawn portrait of grace. 

The cover image of a smiling young boy, sitting alone in a small boat, seems at first glance to be at odds with the sad and strange story within.  Until you read the author’s forward, and realize that this small ship is a lifeboat, and that the waving small boy within is beckoning to the future.  Small, smiling Ian is signaling to his adult self to get in the boat, to get in and hold on for dear life; it’s going to be a rough ride.

Cron is the youngest of four children born to parents who were already drowning in a difficult and dangerous marriage.  He learned early not to depend on his father for anything, most certainly not for the love and affection he so deeply needed.  Children of alcoholics often carry inordinate amounts of guilt – convinced that if they had just been a better boy (or girl) the sick parent would have been well. Cron is no exception to this sad truth. He lived much of his life alternating between shame and fury, longing and disillusionment, chronic anxiety and outright terror.

Raised in the Catholic church, he senses something of the mystery of God very early, surprising himself with tears of awe and gratitude during his first communion. A good priest provided some guidance and encouragement during these early years, as did a remarkable British nanny, who came with the family when they moved from London to Greenwich, Connecticut. 

But as his father’s absences and binges continued and grew, Cron became bitter, believing that God had abandoned him.  Struggling in school, both socially and academically, he opted to experiment with alcohol himself.  Cron’s very first encounter with the bottle proved overwhelmingly that he carried the family disease.

He experimented with pot, then tried being the ‘good student,’ then went back to excessive drinking, always looking for peace, solace, centering.  He was exposed to some caring Christians along the way: a Young Life leader or two, a good friend who saw the crash that was coming, some college friends who tried to reach out.  By the time he was a student at Bowdoin College, he had moved back to faith in God, but it had little to no effect on his drinking. 

During those years, he met the love of his life, his father died, he got married and also began working in a church.  But the drinking continued.  About 18 months after his father’s death and his own marriage, he began to have what felt to him like a nervous breakdown.  A compassionate physician sent him to a 70-year old psychologist, a man who proved to be the personification of God’s grace in Cron’s life.  Using his skills as a counselor, his own life experience with alcoholism and some ‘tough love,’ this man was able to get through to the heart of it all.  

Working through the grief, loss and intense pain surrounding his relationship with his father, Cron found his way home: home to himself, his wife, his calling.  He is now an Episcopal priest, a father to three, a best-selling author and an articulate and winsome reminder that no story is beyond the power of God to redeem. He has been sober for 25 years.

Cron readily admits that he has taken artistic license with some of the ‘facts’ of his story.  Memory is not always perfect and details can be heightened, lessened or even created to help make memoirs more memorable.  But in the end, that really does not matter.  The story, as it is written, is powerful and it is true, in the best sense of that word.  This is a book well worth reading, filled with sadness, hilarious bits of self-description and ultimately, the radiant beauty of homecoming. It was a privilege to read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. There is apparently both redemption and grace in this story: “I once was lost and now am found.” This sounds like a book that will have wide appeal. Thanks for the in depth review.