The word ‘shock’ lost its meaning for me a long time ago. But even I didn’t have this on my bingo card. On May 28, I learned that Dr. Morris Wortman, my biological father and my mother’s fertility doctor, was killed in a plane crash west of Rochester, NY.

Dr. Wortman was the passenger in a two-seater handmade airplane that disassembled mid-flight over Orleans County. The pilot, Earl Luce Jr., also lost his life. The details are surreal and a bit gruesome to digest. The aircraft’s wings severed from the fuselage during flight, and plummeted over a distance of 1,000 to 1,500 yards before crashing into a small orchard. Such details paint a picture of a terrifying, conscious descent to death. Dr. Wortman was 72. Earl Luce Jr. was 71.

The news left me in a daze for the better part of two days. I had feelings, but I wasn’t sure how to feel them. Those closest to me didn’t know either. “I’m…sorry?” they’d say, and I would thank them for the intent behind the words.

What is the normal reaction when the man who fathered you by violating your mother dies in a plane crash?

If it weren’t so gratingly real, such a sentence would be laughable. It is laughable to many people. Every major news outlet picked it up and chose intentionally ‘cute’ language in their headlines, and you know something has captured the broader public interest when Joe Rogan runs with it.

I found no humor in Dr. Wortman’s death, but I am not blind to the irony in a pair of circumstances that essentially wrote the headline. Irony, humor and death, though, have done little to point me to the ‘right’ reaction.

But I have decided that what I feel toward him in death is the same as in life: ambivalence.

I never knew him, but he is part of me. I will never forget what I have learned or the experience through which I have learned it because of him. He impregnated my mother without her knowledge or consent, and I am the living, breathing product of it. A product of him. My son carries his DNA. His face is always in my reflection, blue eyes, crows feet, cueball hairline. I experience the world with a disposition that undoubtedly comes from him. My son will too.

He is a permanent interloper in my life and in the life of my family, and there is nothing short of a lobotomy that will change that. Even in death. That’s not to say that he dominates my thoughts, but he is also never far from them.

And yet, I never knew him. I only know him because I know me.

As such, I don’t feel like his loss is something I could claim as my own even if I wanted to. I am reminded of that when I think of the plight of his teenaged son. I was also reminded of it by a grieving member of his family who contacted me to air displeasure with the fact that I have written or spoken about my experience at all.

It took a few years, but yes, it finally happened.

I don’t know how it feels to love someone who leaves behind so complicated a legacy. But I know how it feels to be the unwitting product of it. I am a living reminder of my mother’s violated wishes. That is not complicated. That is black and white. And I will not apologize for telling the truth about it.

I am forever linked to the darkest of his actions, and if I have shamed anyone by talking about it, it is me.

Shame is non-transferrable. So while my heart hurts for those who loved and lost the better parts of him, nothing I say or do can get them closer to a place where the best of him and the worst of him exist in some form of harmony, no matter how twisted it might be.

That’s the same thing I must do. To love myself fully as I am, and to reconcile that with the parts of me I wish I could change.

That’s all I, or anyone, can do.

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7 Comments

    1. I’m so very sorry. I knew your dad pretty well and I know a lot about your Jewish family history. You may someday want to hear your dad’s family’s story as it may help you make sense of some of this. Please feel free to reach out to me if you are ever in the space to want to know more. Thanks and best of luck. I’m sorry this is so complicated.

  1. Wow Dave!!!
    I’m at a loss for words.
    I had no idea!
    Your processing of the whole thing… that you are sharing with us via your blog… is admirable My Friend… and don’t you EVER allow anyone to shame you into thinking anything different!
    Do what is good and right for your SOUL and know you have an allegiance of… family, friends and followers that have your back.
    Much Love… Julia K

  2. I knew your Dad for over 30 years , nothing but kind, thoughtful to all, including my elderly parents who I choose to believe welcomed him – he saved numerous patients lives in the operating room and delivery – he accepted all patients regardless of inability to afford – please remember this – unfortunately, Rebecca just passed away unexpectedly lung cancer- his son is under 18 . I do not feel ambivalent as Joe Rogan dies –

    1. Barbara, thank you for taking the time to write. I recently learned of Rebecca’s passing, as well, and my heart breaks for their son. I recognize Dr. Wortman did a great deal of good in his life. His misdeeds don’t undo that, but they are still part of the story he chose to write. I wish for peace for his son.

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