Have you ever considered the father figure in the Parable of the Prodigal to be the focus of that story, not the wayward son? After all, the word "father" is mentioned many more times than the word "son."

A "prodigal" is defined as one who "spends extravagantly." While the son spent his inheritance; it was the father who was the most extravagant, both with his money and with his love. It was the father who was the prodigal.

In the book The Prodigal God, author Timothy Keller says the father in the story, "...represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well…the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, His children."

Jesus shared this parable in response to the murmurs of the Pharisees, who were upset that He was spending time with "sinners." The Pharisees were experts at finger-pointing. They needed no description of a sinner, since they already had scrolls filled with the do's and don't's of their religion. Their solution was to judge and prosecute sinners, not offer them a way of redemption. But what they needed to hear was that the Father God would be providing a new Advocate for sinners (even the Pharisees) -- through Christ's sacrifice. The Heavenly Father would soon extravagantly offer every sinner forgiveness and grace, as only a father can -- just like the father in the parable.

Whether or not the parable was taken from a real life example, I imagine it wouldn't be easy for any father to see his son take his inheritance and waste it on riotous living. But there is no mention of the father bringing brute force or threats to bear to hold back his son or to bring him home, any more than God forces Himself on us.

Oh, how much would he have liked to pull (him) back with fatherly authority and hold (him) close to himself so that (he) would not get hurt. But his love is too great to do any of that. It cannot force, constrain, push, or pull. It offers the freedom to reject that love or to love in return. It is precisely the immensity of the divine love that is the source of the divine suffering. God, creator of heavens and earth, has chosen to be, first and foremost, a Father. -- Henri J.W. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

When the son came to his senses, the father extravagantly welcomed him back into the family with fanfare and rejoicing. There was no demand for repayment, no warnings, no threats, and no expressions of disappointment…just love and grace. He threw a party and lavished all the same rights and privileges on the son as if he had never left the fold.

It's the kind of prodigal grace and attention fathers need to lavish on their teens every day today. In our counseling of teens at Heartlight, the most often mentioned desire of teen girls is, "I want more time with my Dad." They want time together, even if they don't act like they do.

Be a Blessing to Your Teenage Boy

"(Tell your teen) I'm proud of you. I love you. I enjoy watching God shape you into a man." There's special power when those words come from the mouths of fathers, and even the toughest teen guys admit they long to hear approval from their moms and dads.
-- Michael Ross & Susie Shellenberger, from What Your Son Isn't Telling You

If you are a dad, take your teen to lunch, grab a snack after school, attend all games or school events, find things you can do together, and communicate with them online. Send daily text messages to say "Hi" or, "I love you." Make sure your teen knows your desire to continue to be involved in his or her life even if there is a split in the family. Do it, or they'll seek validation from someone else, and that can lead to bigger problems than you ever want to have with your teen.

The Missing Dad

I asked one young girl in our counseling program how she was doing. It was a simple question in passing, and I expected a simple "doing okay" answer. Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself, everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had.