Jon Dorenbos says he needed to "come to peace" with his tragic childhood

When Jon Dorenbos was 12 years old, his life changed forever.

On August 2, 1992, Dorenbos’ father, Alan, killed his mother, Kathy. After a high-profile trial, Alan was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Although the young Dorenbos was initially sent to a foster home, he was later adopted by an aunt and uncle.

To cope, Dorenbos immersed himself in two things: football and magic tricks. He succeeded in both areas. He was a long snapper in the NFL for 14 seasons, most notably with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Additionally, he developed a wide audience for his close-up magic. He finished in third place on the 11th season of America’s Got Talent and returned for America’s Got Talent: Champions. He now tours the country performing magic and giving motivational speeches. A regular on Ellen, he is happily married and the father of 5-month old daughter.

Jon Dorenbos
Credit: Gregg DeGuire/Getty
Jon Dorenbos

Dorenbos, now 39, has written about overcoming tragedy in his autobiograpy, Life is Magic: My Inspiring Journey from Tragedy to Self-Discovery. In an interview with Fox News, he talks about how the murder changed his life.

“The world just changed,” he said. “Everything. My dad was my hero. This is the guy that is supposed to show me what life’s about… show me about trust and love and all this. But yet he betrayed our family more than anybody.”

Last year, Dorenbos decided to travel to Washington to meet with his father, who has long been out of prison.

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE’s free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

“Right before I had my daughter, I wanted to relive that relationship [with my father], feel everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, to find the motivation to be a better father to my daughter,” he tells Fox.

“I let go of bitterness and hate,” he tells Parade Magazine. “And realized that how I redefine forgiveness has changed my life for the better, and, ultimately, it ended with me, weeks before my daughter was born, going to see my dad, who murdered my mom, for the first time in 26 years. I sat and I had lunch with him for about five-and-a-half hours.”

During that long lunch, Dorenbos got the answers to many of his questions — and came to terms with the fact that there would be some things he’d never understand.

“I realized as I was sitting across from my dad that the forgiveness had nothing to do with what he had to say, with what he had to do,” he tells Parade. “It had nothing to do with getting a validation from him, hearing excuses or reasons. It had nothing to do with anything about him.”

“I can’t change it,” he continues. “These things happened, and if I can come to peace with my own reality then I’m going to be able to move on and, hopefully, do some great things in this world.”