by Brian Dembowczyk
I blew it. I knew it, and so did my 6-year-old son. But to understand how I blew it, I first need to introduce you to my family’s dogs.
We adopted our first dog, Della, a chocolate lab mix, back in 2017. It was one of the best moves my family has made. We were apprehensive, but quickly became enamored with Della Dog. Della, though, is young and wants to play—all the time—and even our family of five struggles to keep up with her. So we had the great idea of getting a second dog: Chester the beagle.
Chester is another amazing dog, but he came with something Della had not come with—naughtiness. We hadn’t realize how well-behaved Della was until Chester rolled onto the scene. Chester likes to grab food off the table, chew on pretty much anything, and dig through trash cans—things Della never did before, but sadly does now. You know, that whole bad apple thing.
This takes us to how I blew it. Chester likes to rummage through our first floor bathroom—if the door is open. It only took a couple of times of finding Chester in the living room with a roll of toilet paper strewn about or, much worse, a soiled child’s pull-up shredded for me to lay down a firm new rule in our house: keep that bathroom door closed. It’s a simple rule. A reasonable rule. Yet it’s a rule my youngest son struggled to keep. To make matters worse, he would never own up to leaving that door open—even when I saw him do it.
On the day I blew it, I came into the living room to see Chester mid-shred of a pull-up. Instantly, my blood boiled and I called for Caleb. As usual, he denied leaving the door open and also as usual, I wasn’t buying it. I told him he was off of electronics the rest of the day and sent him to his room. In tears, he turned and ran upstairs leaving me behind to stew in my anger and clean up the mess.
The stewing was cut short when my daughter confessed that she had left the door open. Caleb had told me that, but I hadn’t believed him, my second failure. My first failure was blowing up at him. Sure, I was frustrated by the mess, but what I was really frustrated about was work. I had taken the stress of my job out on my son.
I found Caleb facedown on his bed and rolled him over. Tears were still in his eyes and on his cheeks. My anger was long gone, replaced by shame and sorrow. I had blown it and I had injured my son’s sensitive heart. His dad, someone he loves and looks up to, had sinned against him. I needed to confess that sin and ask for forgiveness. So I did. And he did. Caleb forgave me with a beautiful forgiveness that children have in abundance and adults tend to lack.
How did you read the title of this blog post? If you are like me, you probably read it as the forgiveness we extend. And that is critical, of course. We need to be fathers who extend full and free forgiveness to our children as Father God has extended full and free forgiveness to us in Christ.
But we need to consider how the title should also reflect forgiveness’ other direction between fathers and children: the forgiveness we receive. The forgiveness I needed from my son that day is a forgiveness I am woefully bad at asking for. This story was easy for me to recall, because it’s rare, and I need to change that. I need to grow so much in this area of being a father. The Bible calls on us to confess our sins to others (James 5:16), which includes our kids. And our kids need to see their fathers model humility, an awareness and disdain for our sin, and a heart posture that is desperate for forgiveness and reconciliation. This is, after all, at the core of the gospel. And the gospel is what we have been called on to share with our kids. Asking for our children’s forgiveness is good for us, good for them, and good for the gospel.
Brian Dembowczyk is the Managing Editor and Kids Team Leader of The Gospel Project and author of “Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry” and “Cornerstones: 200 Questions and Answers to Learn Truth.” Before coming to LifeWay, Brian served in local church ministry for seventeen years in family, discipleship, and pastoral ministry. Brian earned a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently earning a Ph.D. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife Tara, and their three children, Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb, live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.