Do the Right Thing: An Apology 30 Years Too Late

“Dad, what was the meanest thing you did when you were a kid?” That simple question by my ten year old son set in motion an apology that was 30 years overdue. It was really an innocent conversation last month with my son while we made some cookies together in the kitchen. He asked me that question and immediately I thought of the only time in my life when I was truly mean to someone else. I shared with him two incidents from when I was in sixth grade. Upon hearing the stories from my past, my son immediately asked, “Did you apologize to her for that?“. I told him that, well, no, I hadn’t apologized back then because I never admitted to her what I had done. “You should do it now, Dad.” I agreed and told him that I’d try to find her on Facebook and see what I could do about it. After all, it’s never too late to try to make things right…even if it’s 30 years later!

So, I checked on Facebook. No Kelly. I Googled her. No Kelly. I looked on whitepages.com. No Kelly. As a last resort, I posted on Facebook to see if any of my friends from high school knew of her now. To my surprise, a few of them knew of her whereabouts, as she was still living and working in the area. I reached out to one of the people who had responded, Carrie, my childhood friend and next door neighbor, to see if she would be willing to deliver a letter from me to Kelly. Thankfully, Carrie agreed and I composed my letter and emailed it across the country from Washington to Wisconsin. I’ll admit that I was more than a little nervous about actually contacting Kelly after all these years. Was I going to cause her even more pain by bringing up the past? Would she respond? If she did, how would she respond? I told my son (and my other kids, for that matter) that I had sent the letter and that Carrie was going to deliver it a few days later. Here’s the letter that I wrote.

Dear Kelly,

I’m writing you today as a result of a conversation I had with my ten year old son a few days ago. He asked me to tell him about the meanest thing I did when I was a kid. Without hesitation my mind raced back to a couple of choices I made as a twelve year old at Wilson Elementary School in Neenah. I shared with him two stories of how I mistreated you. Actually, I didn’t just mistreat you, I was downright mean, cruel and hurtful. The first incident I recalled was how I purposely left you behind when my mom was driving a group of us to Neenah High School for a district-wide choir rehearsal. In an attempt to gain favor with the “popular” kids I lied to you about where to meet so that you wouldn’t be in the van with us. At school the next day I had to lie to you again to cover up my original lie. The second incident was how I discovered your locker ajar (it was next to mine, I think) and saw a tampon on the shelf. Instead of simply shutting your locker I took the tampon and placed it on your desk for everyone to see upon our return from lunch and recess. Again, I chose to purposely embarrass and hurt you. Even putting these awful actions from 30 years ago in writing makes me feel like a huge jerk all over again.

And that brings me to the present. My son was shocked that I could have been so mean, cruel and hurtful. Quite frankly, so am I. He asked me one question, “Did you ever apologize to her?”. Regrettably, the answer to that was “no”. I told him that I was so ashamed of myself that I never admitted to you that I had lied to you about the choir trip or confessed about putting the tampon on your desk. I decided that I needed to own up to it and, through the connections of old classmates on Facebook, I found you. So, Kelly, I want you to know how sorry I am for making those awful choices. Will you please forgive me for choosing to be mean, cruel and hurtful to you. I know that I cannot erase the hurt that I caused years ago. I’ve taught my children the importance of both apologizing and seeking forgiveness and this is an opportunity for me to do that, albeit 30 years too late.

I understand if you don’t want to contact me about this. If you would like to contact me you can call or text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx or email me at xxxxxxx@gmail.com. I live in Washington state with my family (wife and six kids) and get back to visit my mom in Neenah once in a while. I’d love to hear about how you’ve been if you want to reach out. I wish you and yours peace and joy.

Sincerely,

Carl

Kelly responded a few days later in an email.

Dear Carl,

Imagine my surprise at your letter being delivered to me at work today. I hadn’t thought about those things in many years. Of course I forgive you. The reason being Jesus forgives me my wrongs against others as well. While I cannot deny those things hurt, and yes some one told me in a rather mean way I had been left behind a bit later. I know that the in crowd can be a huge pressure at that age. After a time you learn to be yourself no matter what others do. School that year was rough but it was used in ways that built a heart of compassion within me. That awkward kid figured out that God loved her very much as the years went by, no matter what others may have done. Even then I knew God saw the tears I tried so hard to hide from others. It built in me compassion for others, to treat others as I wish to be treated.

Fast forward to now. Twenty-one years of marriage, a son soon to be twenty-one, an eleven year daughter. Life is never boring here. I work my secular job while being an assistant pastor at a small church for the past few years.

May God bless you and keep you well.

Kelly

When I received that email I was snuggling my 16 month old daughter in my arms as she was falling asleep. Through tears of joy I said a silent prayer of thanks to God for such an amazing response. Later that evening I replied.

Dear Kelly,
Wow. I am completely blown away by the grace and kindness of your message. I’m so thankful that God was able to turn such a difficult time in your life into something positive for you. I actually learned a similar lesson about compassion and kindness for others as a result of being mean to you. Reading about how God has used you for his good despite hard circumstances makes me think of how God used Joseph for His greater purpose after the terrible treatment he received from both his brothers and Potiphar’s wife. I’m glad that you have such a strong faith. And, honestly, I’m even more disappointed in my own shortcomings from years ago because I, too, grew up in a Christian family and I knew that what I was doing was wrong.
I told my kids yesterday that I had written you a letter and that Carrie had delivered it before getting your response. I’m excited to share it with them because it’s really why I did this in the first place. To show that it’s never too late to do the right thing, even if it’s 30 years later. I’m also eager to show them, through your gracious letter, how God can turn hardship into a beautiful testimony to His enduring love and faithfulness.
Blessings to you and your family,
Carl
As I shared with my children that next day about Kelly’s amazing letter I realized that I wanted to blog about this experience of seeking forgiveness but would only do so with Kelly’s permission, which she graciously granted. I’m glad that my son asked me that question last month because, without it, I probably wouldn’t have sought out Kelly to apologize for my poor choices 30 years ago. I didn’t share this so that you all would think that I’m some sort of saint because I apologized for something I did a long time ago. Nope, I’m human and just as flawed as anyone else. I shared this because it shows that it is possible to try and make amends for mistakes from the past. I would encourage you to not wait 30 years, though, before seeking forgiveness. However long it takes, it’s never too late to do the right thing!
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12 thoughts on “Do the Right Thing: An Apology 30 Years Too Late

  1. Carl,
    This is Walter Mathis. I, too, am father of six. They range in ages from 19yrs to 4 months. I loved reading this exchange. I grew up Catholic but became a Christian about 7 years ago. In that time it never ceases to amaze me the amount of grace God has for us and how in our weakness, or from our mistakes, or our struggles He blesses us with wisdom. I love how He used those poor decisions you had made to affect you both in a positive way. God is good. Take care. Gal 2:20 walter

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    • Walter, good to hear from you and thanks for sharing that great verse and your thoughts about grace. I’m always amazed at how seemingly bad circumstances in life can be used to change and form me in unforseen ways. Congrats on the six kids…including the baby!

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  2. I’m glad you did share this. It’s very moving on so many levels. I can only imagine the relief you felt when she accepted your apology – burden lifted. I’m sure your kids can learn a great deal from how you handled this – I know I did.

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  3. Children can make us better. What a wonderful story thank you for sharing. I’ve had a few of those “aha” moments in my adult-hood and have been grateful for being able to confront those that I felt guilt for hurting in the past. More often then not they are surprised and taken a back by the apology (and maybe weren’t as bothered as I thought they were). I think as we grow we realize that although we made mistakes in youth due to ignorance, immaturity and peer pressure, as adults we know that these actions affect who we are, who we become and who we want our children to be.

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  4. I find this post to be particularly inspiring and I’m glad I found your blog. It’s beautiful that you had the courage to write to your former classmate and it’s wonderful that she responded so kindly. You’ve taught your children a fantastic lesson and showed them by example what accountability and responsibility is about. Cheers to you and your lovely family!

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  5. This was great to read. I too found a classmate from 30 years ago on FB and apologized for being mean to him back in school. He didn’t even remember the incident, but he forgave me. I recently saw him at our 40th class reunion. What a blessed time to visit with him, he is a Christan also.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this. I came across this on Google when I used the search string, “Is it ever to late to apologize?” 30 years ago, I stuck my nose into a situation that was none of my business. Two people in my extended family got into a disagreement and I heard about it and in my ignorance and foolishness, wrote a letter, spouting of incredibly hurtful things. I know that God wants me to take responsibility for those hurtful words, but to be honest, I dread the potential blowback. If there is any negativity that comes out of it, it is my own fault; I am just really dreading it. I know that letting it go all this time has not honored God and I need to talk to the person and let them know how truly sorry I am for hurting them.

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    • I’m glad that you found this and hope it’s helpful. I’ll be praying for you and your situation that God would be honored and the relationships might be headed and fully restored. Peace to you.

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