A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story
"Working for the CIA is a great, exciting job" agree Robert and Dayna Baer, co-authors of the new book 'The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story.' But it does come with a large price tag: not having a normal family life.
"You do this 18 hours a day," Bob notes. "You live in your own CIA bubble, making it almost impossible to separate where your professional life ends and your home life begins."
Thrills, chills -- and yawns
The book is a sleek, modern tale of what it is like to be a spy in the 21st century. You want spies, guns, travel, coups, secret meetings and strange late night visitors? You got it. But, be forewarned that this story is gritty, raw and honest. It is not a polished, Hollywood version of spy life, and it does not wrap up the details of the spook business in a neat, tuxedo-wearing, martini-drinking package like you might expect.
"It's not all glamorous," admits Dayna, who recounts a time she was in Cyprus on assignment when she was so bored she would have even read food labels, if it would pass the time. Bob says they purposely "wanted those rough edges in there" so that they exposed the real pros and cons of the business.
Bob worked for the CIA for 20-plus years, while Dayna's time there was "less than that." Both former spies agree that the greatest lesson they learned from their years of service to this country was that being employed by the CIA makes it "hard to keep those close family relationships."
Pros and cons
Dayna was married once before finding Bob and was always very close to her parents. She says that "working overseas was exciting and interesting" and something she loved. However, she neglected those home ties of family and friendship, so when she returned to the states, she found that people had moved on.
Until he met Dayna, Bob also felt the effects of being caught between two worlds. "I had three children from a previous marriage," he says, "and I couldn't relate to them at all. I began to worry that I was emotionally crippled in some way or narcissistic. The job was a wonderful crutch that allowed me to escape overseas and deny that my marriage was falling apart."
Like any other job, working for the CIA has its ups and downs. They both cite the profession's solitary lifestyle as a major drawback. For Dayna, "being alienated from family was the worst," whereas Bob felt "very limited" by the pool of relations you are allowed to make while on the job. Also, readjusting to "regular" life was difficult: "We were both so intellectually limited and naive when we left the CIA. We didn't know how business worked, we didn't understand pop culture references, and we basically missed the '80s."
On the flip side, Dayna felt a real sense of camaraderie living and working with a small unit abroad, and Bob became addicted to that feeling of being important and needed. "There was an intellectual satisfaction that I got from knowing something that others did not, even if it was something most people would not care about" he says. "Knowing a truth gave me personal satisfaction."
Advice for others
Would they do it again? You bet! Dayna says "there are huge interesting moments working for the CIA," and Bob is quick to reply that he would "absolutely" go back to work for the agency: "What a great place to grow up and learn things."
For anyone considering a career with the CIA, Dayna recommends staying "squeaky-clean," and Bobs says that the training is good and worth getting. "Learn a language, go overseas and do what they [CIA] say for five years; and then if you want to have a family and be home in the United States, get a desk job" -- because the longer you wait to get out, the harder it is.
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Gwen Parkes is a seasoned writer and editor and a subject matter expert (SME) on healthcare and healthcare reform. She spends her days freelancing for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and various publishing houses. Parkes exercises everyday to cleanse her mind and find her inspiration- running and hot yoga are her current devices of choice- and she is an amateur chef and self-proclaimed foodie; she believes that good supermarkets are happy places, a good Pinot Noir goes with everything and coffee should be served hot, with cream and sugar and as frequently as necessary.