My Father Was Zorro

It was 1958, another Thursday night in front of the television set.

Daddy sat in his easy chair, feet propped on the hassock, elbows resting on the little sleeves that kept the stuffing inside the chair’s frayed arms. We three kids sprawled on the oval rag rug.

Sometime between eight and eight-thirty, during Zorro’s commercial break, our father decided we were ready.

“It’s time you knew.” He reached for the bowl of popcorn on his TV tray. “The truth is, I’m Zorro.”

Mom, darning socks on the couch, raised her eyebrows.  I joined big sister Rose and little brother Brian in a faithless chorus of “Oh, Daddy!”

Zorro and family. I’m the kid on the right.

Daddy taught World History at the local high school. He was also head coach of the high school football team. Every Friday night, we all sat together on the bleachers and cheered Daddy’s team to victory. We knew who he was. He was important, but he was not Zorro.

“You don’t believe me?” he asked.

“Daddy!” I rolled my eyes. “You can’t be Zorro. You coach football.” I knew it was Daddy down there among the helmets and shoulder pads. I’d seen him.

“That’s my cover. Zorro is my secret identity. I have to keep the secret, don’t I?”

For a moment, we were silent. I thought of Clark Kent. In fact, the perfect example of this problem was Don Diego de la Vega himself, that worthless aristocrat. On television it was Don Diego, with the help of his mute manservant, Bernardo, who transformed himself into Zorro every Thursday night to outwit the evil Spanish officer, Monastario. If Monastario knew that Don Diego and Zorro were the same man, Diego was a dead Don.

The commercial break ended, and we turned our attention to action on the screen. Don Diego had changed into his black-caped disguise. He mounted the white stallion Phantom and galloped off to Monastario’s palace.

I studied Zorro during the close-ups. He jumped off Phantom’s back and ran silently through the palace grounds, eyes alert for every movement. Could this possibly be Daddy? I studied our father, motionless on the big chair, eyes half-shut in repose. Of course, Daddy could be feigning drowsiness while watching our every move. That would be just like Zorro. Goosebumps rose on my arms. Both men were tall with dark hair. It was hard to be sure when Zorro wore that mask.

One thing was certain. I knew that nobody could be in two places at once.

“Look,” I gestured to the screen. Zorro stood outside the window of the room where Monastario and his cronies were meeting. “That’s in California. If Daddy’s in California, he can’t be here in Ohio, too.”

“Yeah!” yelled Brian.

“That isn’t happening right now.” Nine-year-old Rose, who had two grades of school on me, knew practically everything. “It’s like a movie, not real life.”

“Of course,” Daddy agreed. “Let’s see, I believe this particular incident occurred last summer. I was in California right when you kids were at camp. Isn’t that right, Esther?”

“Mmmm.” Mom kept right on darning. She evidently knew how to keep a secret.

Zorro caught the eye of a confederate inside the palace and winked to signal that he had heard the evil plan. When I looked back at Daddy, he winked at me! A cold shiver rattled my spine. Had I never noticed the fire in Daddy’s eyes? Maybe our seats in the bleachers were too far away.

But when Zorro took off his mask and became Don Diego again, talking over the events of the day with Bernardo, even Brian could see that he didn’t look much like our father. What about those sideburns? Zorro’s were twice as long as Daddy’s.

“Makeup.” When Daddy stretched his arms, it was easy to imagine the plaid flannel shirt covered with a black cape. “They can do anything with makeup.”

The credits rolled across the screen. Rose read the name “Guy Williams” opposite “Don Diego de la Vega (‘Zorro’).” If Daddy were Zorro, who was Guy Williams?

“That’s my stage name,” said Daddy patiently. “If I used my real name, everyone would know I was Zorro. It would blow my cover.”

Of course! The shiver tore through me again, leaving conviction in its path. Using his real name would blow his cover. Everything fit together. Deep in my heart, I’d known it all along. Our family was special. The freedom of California – a mission more fraught with purpose even than tomorrow’s big game – rested on my own father’s shoulders.

That night, Daddy swore us all to secrecy, and only now, in the interests of posterity, has he released me to reveal the truth. As far as I know, none of us kids ever betrayed him. If Bernardo and Mom could keep a secret, we certainly could too.

With love to fathers and mothers, daughters and sons,

Margaret

About Margaret D. McGee

Comments

  1. Ida Wingrove says:

    Margaret,

    I loved this family story and the delightful photo. What a lovely pinafore you gals are wearing.
    Cheers, Ida

  2. Brad Offutt says:

    Thank you, Margaret. One of your gifts is that your memories and experiences, so beautifully conveyed, evoke my own for me. The picture, too, takes me to a happy place when mothers and dads and kids dressed that way. The first word I read on my own, when I knew I was reading, knew I had entered the great letters mystery, was the word “Look!” in a Lone Ranger comic book. My father had read it to me so many times that I knew the dialogue by heart. And this time, on my own, in a little house that no longer exists (eaten by redevelopment), I read, and my mom, who dressed like your mom, was so pleased! This was not Dick and Jane and Spot – I was into the real world! I could explore with the Lone Ranger and Tonto on my own!

Trackbacks

  1. […] For a different snapshot of my father, this one taken a few years before he became superintendent of the schools, see “My Father Was Zorro.” […]