My first school bus was bus #133, and it was so old that it looked like one of those school busses you might see in a cartoon that actually had a face and could smile and talk. You know, like Thomas the Tank Engine. I was in the first grade, and during my first few weeks I felt like young Forrest Gump as all the older kids staked claims on the best seats.
Of course the most prized seat was at the back, and only the toughest guy could stake that claim. Not only did this guy - a 6th grade bully who was twice my size – claim the back of the bus as his fiefdom, but for some reason he decided that the big toe on my right foot was his enemy. For many days he would stomp the heel of his shoe on that toe until it was swollen, bleeding and infected.
I was afraid to tell my parents, but my mom saw my limp and after seeing the damage she made me show my dad. Well, my dad, Arthur Watkins, was your typical working-class guy who slaved in a local textile mill his whole life. He was neither the best dad nor the worst dad. He had hands made of steel, and I was generally afraid of his wrath. However, I was soon to see a side of him that I will never forget.
Instead of totally losing his cool my dad just asked me how long this had been going on and who was doing it. He usually said things like, “If a bigger guy bullies you just pick up the nearest stick and knock him in the side of the head.” But this time was different. He just quietly said. “This won’t happen to you again.”
The next day I was on the bus heading home, and dad would arrive home from work an hour after me. The bus soon squeaked to a stop near my house, the double doors swung open and as I began to exit the bus I met the towering figure of my dad getting on. It was a Clint Eastwood spaghetti-western moment, and I knew that some kid on the back of the bus probably would not live to graduate 6th grade. People get arrested for stuff like this these days.
I froze as my dad passed me and went to the back of the bus. He approached the bully who by now was getting spiritual. He looked the kid in the eyes and said, “You have been hurting my son. It will never happen again.” And then without another word we got off the bus and walked home together.
I have never forgotten this day, and it reminds me that if our earthly fathers protected us as best they could then what about our heavenly Father? If I had known what my natural father was capable of doing on my behalf I would have confronted this bully with confidence long ago.
If we also knew the advocacy and power of our heavenly Father we would not put up with the harassment of the bully of our souls, the devil.
By the way, that guy never even looked at me again until I met him over 30 years later. I was preaching in a church, and he was in the congregation. I talked with him after the meeting, but I never mentioned the incident because he did not remember me.
I’ll bet he remembered my dad though!