While attending a summer festival in downtown Denver over the weekend, the number of fathers who were shepherding children caught my attention. They carried babies in backpacks and commandeered strollers through crowds bunched around food tents and bandstands. It is a source of delight to watch young fathers who easily take on a nurturing role in the lives of their children.
My own father was of a different generation. The only time I remember him carrying me anywhere was into a hospital emergency room when I came down with a severe case of Scarlet Fever. He didn’t toss balls around in the back yard with my brothers, and left most of the day-to-day parenting to my mother. Nevertheless, he took his role as provider seriously and I looked to him for safety and security. I knew he would never abandon or harm us in any way. Although not demonstrative, his love for his wife, children, and grandchildren was absolute.
If there is one single parable that sticks in our minds, it is probably the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-22). The image of a father waiting for the return of his wayward child with such patience and longing is one of the most poignant scenes in the Bible. His response to the prodigal’s irresponsible behavior catches us off guard with its magnanimity and parental perception. He shows the same benevolence towards the elder son, whose petulance sets up even greater barriers to reconciliation. At a time when we are quick to draw attention to “deadbeat dads”, this ancient story invites us to consider fatherhood as a reflection of God’s magnanimous heart.
We are not all blessed with nurturing parents, but we do have a God whose love knows no bounds, who stands ready to forgive us for our misbehavior, and who awaits our return home with longing and tenderness. As we honor fathers of this and past generations, may we also give thanks to our Father in heaven for his sheltering presence.
Act out the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-22) with your class or group. Assign each child a role to play, even it if one of the pigs in the farmer’s field. Invite them to discuss the father’s love and generosity in the story once the story is finished.