A Lesson Before Dying

by guest contributor Matt Worthington

There are a lot of things I don’t know about my Dad. I was 13 when he left, and I didn’t see him again until I graduated college this past December. He had left our family for another one--my brother’s girlfriend’s family to be exact. I know it’s a little Jerry Springerish, but for a woman and her four sons, it was nothing less than paralyzing for us. When someone disappears for ten years, they start to become fuzzy in your brain, but what’s leftover doesn’t. So while the pain fester, you start to forget any good thing you once knew about them, and most positive memories become considerably concussed. For me, the pain is more of what his exile did to the rest of my family, not necessarily me. Manic depression. Suicide attempts. Low self-esteems. Starving bank accounts. Rapidly increasing debt. Each one of these deserves a period of their own because they’ve all been that bad in the past ten years. Crippling would be a kind description. So there’s no way around that when I think about my Dad. And to be honest, it’s hard to recover a relationship with that on the table.

But that’s the easiest thing I can do, just let everything good about him become a blur and start to focus on all of the pain he’s inflicted on my brothers, my mother, and I. Just forget any goodness he once had, you know? It’s easy to do that.

We have these phone conversations ever so often. And there’s these moments where he’ll be telling me about how he’s thinking about becoming a Mason, or how it’s really necessary to buy mullet fish if you’re going to fish off the pier in Corpus Christi, and then he’ll randomly break out into something honest. Two years ago he said this, and I wrote it down,

"I'm still your Dad, you know? I'm not just some biological dude who helped spawn you into the world. Once upon a time, you and I were real close. We knew each other. And I know, you were a young man way back and since then, you've changed. You've accomplished a lot. You're a man now, a different man. But I'm still your dad. I'm an ornery cuss, but I'm still your dad."

It's hard to feel like you have a dad after eight years of absence. Once upon a time, I was twelve, but now I'm twenty-one. Some things change and you have no choice over them. Somewhere along the line, I stopped feeling like I had a dad. Maybe I had a father, but not a dad.

Tonight, he was telling me about how when he was 14 and his Dad died, that he took his Dad’s pistol and shot all of his Dad’s ammo except for six bullets. He didn’t say why six bullets, instead he just immediately transitioned with,

“You know, I never really meant to leave you when you were 14, Matt. Things were hard for me, and I made decisions that made sense to me. And when I dropped you off at that Boy Scout camp, I knew that you’d be alright. I knew you’d come through. And you have. Hell, I know you haven’t seen your finest hour. But I never meant to leave you Matt and I’m sorry I did. I’m really sorry. I never meant to leave you.”

He’s 57 now. He’s aging. And obviously, he’s hurting. I’m not even sure he has real friends anymore. Honestly, I think this is the kind of that makes Jesus weep for us all: that we would justify withholding love and reconciliation from one another. For so long, though, I thought it was okay to not talk to him. I thought it was okay to withhold any friendship or sonship. I feel differently now. I think everyone deserves forgiveness. And I think everyone deserves to have friends, even if they disappeared for a decade.

That night, two years ago (not too long after the shooting at Virginia Tech), the last thing I wrote in that entry was this:

He asked me why I thought someone would shoot 32 people? I told him, "He probably didn't have any friends."


  1. Wow. You didn't have to share that, but I am glad you did.

  2. Thanks for posting this Matt. I'm so glad you are having conversations with your dad after so much silence.