Secrets and Ties: My Dad Was "Deep Throat"

Joan Felt, daughter of Mark Felt (better known as Deep Throat), reveals what it was like to find out her father was the man behind Richard Nixon’s downfall.

By Sara Peyton

Meeting Deep Throat and Family
I have just walked into Mark Felt’s bedroom. His only daughter, Joan, whom I have come to interview, leans over to adjust the blanket on his lap; seen side-by-side, their finely chiseled features make visible the powerful bond between them. I ask him whether there is anything he’d like to say. "Tell them I’m Deep Throat," proclaims the most famous anonymous source in U.S. history.
Over the years, Joan Felt’s relationship with her father has caromed from hero worship to estrangement to reconciliation and, finally, the stunning revelation that this man — her dad! — was the key to a more than 30-year-long journalistic puzzle. Mark Felt’s disclosure in May 2005 that he was the man in the underground parking garage, Bob Woodward’s fabled secret source in the Watergate scandal, drew hundreds of reporters to the family’s Santa Rosa, California, home. But Felt, the former second-in-command at the FBI, is now 92 and in poor health, so it has fallen on his 62-year-old daughter to manage the madness that has ensued.
"And I thought I was the one with the secrets," Joan says with a grin — her father’s smile.
My First Visit with the Felts
On the unseasonably warm January afternoon when I visit, natural light streams into the "DT suite," two comfortably furnished rooms directly off the kitchen. On a second bed sits Felt’s caregiver — someone is with him 24 hours a day. Felt is neatly dressed, his hands tucked in worn black leather gloves because of his poor circulation. He sits in a gray lounge chair facing a television set tuned to a golf game.
"Do you enjoy golf?" I ask. "No," he snaps, his voice surprisingly loud and clear, as he theatrically grabs the remote and clicks it off. I laugh, and ask whether there is anything else he’d like to say to MORE readers before Joan and I leave the room. "Tell them to hang in there!" he says. Then, adding incongruously, "You’ve got beautiful teeth," instantly nailing my secret vanity.
Although obviously frail, Felt’s quick wit provides some cover for his problematic memory, which fades in and out — the result of suffering three strokes over the past seven years.
"Dad’s rational in the present and remembers his childhood," Joan explains after we retreat to her yellow-trimmed kitchen. "But he has forgotten many of the Watergate details." With Joan’s encouragement and the assistance of coauthor, family friend and lawyer John O’Connor, Mark Felt has just released a new memoir — based primarily on interviews, memos, and earlier writings — A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being "Deep Throat" and the Struggle for Honor in Washington.
Joan Finally Speaks
Over mugs of ginger tea, in her first major interview since the story broke, Joan and I talk for hours. So who is this Stanford-educated flower child turned suburban single mom and college Spanish professor who took in her widowed father and juggles four part-time teaching jobs? Dressed in a long, leaf-colored dress and pink shrug, and looking like a softer version of Jane Fonda, Joan is, in many ways, pure Sonoma County — a midlife woman who, having been unlucky in love, has found strength and succor in spiritual pursuits, including yoga and meditation.
Charmingly optimistic, Joan has always believed she could make the world a better place by becoming better person. So it still astounds her to think that, while she was off self-improving on a farm back in the early 1970s, her father, whose job disturbed her and whose views she thought were opposed to her own, was quietly taking down an administration.
There was a time when Mark Felt’s occupation thrilled his daughter. "I remember Dad arriving home all dressed up," Joan says. "He had his routine: He’d take off his fedora and put it on the shelf. Then he’d take off his suit coat, and he’d have this shoulder holster strapped over his arm. It was covered up and hidden. Then he’d take that off, and it was just exciting. I found my handsome father very glamorous." Glamorous, but distant. "Dad was always working," she adds. "He seemed remote — emotionally unavailable."

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