I am not a father. I start there, because most people who write on fatherhood are in fact fathers. I am a son to a phenomenal father, Kevin Forbis, who modeled for me what a godly marriage looks like. I am a son to a studious and intentional father who modeled what a hard work ethic looks like and what a loving disciplinarian looks like. I am a son to a forgiving and patient father who showed me what a humble and contrite man of God looks like.
Yet above that, I am a son to a sinner saved by grace who did his job in sharing the gospel with me and led me to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. My picture of fatherhood is very similar to my childhood understanding of God: one of patience, forgiveness, trust, love, protection, and even discipline.
One situation stands out. I wish I could take my words back now, although my father’s instruction continue to impact me today. I will strive to pass on his lessons to my own children someday. I was back home in east Texas with my folks spending time with my father. My father and I were driving home from a Tae Kwon Do class, and we were arguing about something I did incorrectly during the class. It was a silly and stupid argument. He was right and I was wrong. It was late night. I was heated from just spending an hour sparring with dozens of people. Needless to say, I was not in the right frame of mind, and during the argument I said these words I’ll never forget “I wish I wasn’t your son, I wish I wasn’t a Forbis.”
Those words stung my father to the core. I hurt him deeply. We arrived home, and when I exited the truck he said, “If you wish you weren’t my son then I’ll treat you as such, never talk to me like that again, and never speak to me again.” Words no child ever wants to hear from their father. I was defeated. I was filled with fear, and I was thoroughly disgusted with myself for what I had just done.
I laid there on the grassy knoll by the driveway and cried. I looked like a blubbering teenage idiot. I didn’t see or hear from my father the rest of the evening, but later that night as I was in the state of almost sleep and barely awake, I felt someone kiss my forehead, cover me up with a blanket, and say, “I love you James Kevin, and am sorry for what I said.” As I stirred, I opened my eyes briefly and saw the moonlit shadow of my father leaving my room. It was in that moment when I learned the greatest lesson my father could have ever taught me about being a father. A father’s love knows no bounds, and a father’s love is completely undeserved and unwarranted—constant and unwavering. I realized in that moment I wanted to be just like my father.
The song “That’s My Job” by country music legend Conway Twitty paints an almost exact image of how my father and I have interacted over the course of my life, minus the whole making music part, and how our heavenly Father interacts with us at times when we are most afraid, hesitant, and defeated. The song opens up with this verse and chorus:
I woke up cryin’ late at night when I was very young.
I had dreamed my father had passed away and gone.
My world revolved around him, I couldn’t lay there anymore
So I made my way down the mirrored hall and tapped upon his door
And I “Daddy, I’m so afraid
how will I go on with you gone that way?
Don’t wanna cry anymore so may I stay with you?”
And he said “That’s my job, that’s what I do
Everything I do is because of you
To keep you safe with me,
That’s my job, you see.”
This part of the chorus resonates with me most, “That’s my job, that’s what I do / Everything I do is because of you / To keep you safe with me, / That’s my job, you see,” because this is how God our Father relates to us in time of trouble and in time of need.
It’s His job, just as it was my own father’s job, to keep us safe from harm manifested in temptation and sin, to keep us away from the powers and principalities that Satan controls here on this earth, and to provide for us in all our needs. Now I’m not saying that my father kept me from sin or Satan, but my father did teach me the biblical doctrines of sin and temptation and how to avoid them by putting my trust in Christ crucified and God the Father.
My father also helped me to understand that the conviction I had for my sin came from God the Holy Spirit. He shared with me my need for salvation through Christ. Just as God provided for my physical and spiritual needs by giving me a father who was dedicated to Christ and humble enough realize he couldn’t do life alone, my own father provided for me physically and spiritually when he led through my convictions of sin to a relationship with Christ. As our heavenly Father comforts us and gives us peace when we are downtrodden, emotionally and spiritually broken and defeated, my father took the time to encourage me, comfort me, and give me direction when life did not go as planned. His tenderness and care coupled with his stern love and wisdom reflected to me how God would take care of me in my darkest days, and would provide for me a way out, just as my own father provided opportunities to succeed and survive this material world.
My own father understood what it meant to be a father, because he looked to the Father for guidance and for a model, and that’s what I think a biblical understanding and practice of fatherhood should be. Just as marriage should be modeled after Jesus Christ and the Church; fatherhood should be modeled after God and His relationship to His children, because when we have a right understanding of our relationship with our Father then we can have a better relationship and understanding with our fathers. Our picture of fatherhood should reflect the Father, but also our understanding of the Father must be reflected in our homes as fathers. Someday I hope to portray this like my own father did, and still does to this day to me.
BIO: James K. Forbis Jr. is an M.Div candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Missiology and Church Planting and a founding member of The Cross Church School of Ministry. He is a native Texan. You can follow him on Twitter at @jforbis.
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