If you were naming the months, would you call one of them “father”?

The Greeks and Romans named the months after their gods. The Islamic calendar refers to warfare, weather and camels, among other things. Though the Chinese named their years after various animals, their months are much more pedestrian and are just numbered from 1 to 12. However, in the Jewish calendar we’re entering the new month of Av, which is literally translated as “father.”

Each name seems to perfectly capture the spirit of that season.

The other months seem to have much more significant name associations. Nissan, the month of nissim (miracles), is when we celebrate our exodus from Egypt. Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays are in Tishrei, the time of new beginnings (tishrei is the Aramaic word for “let it begin”). And Adar, related to adir (“mighty”), is all about the strength and good fortune that is Purim. Pregnant with meaning and redolent with spirituality, each name seems to perfectly capture the spirit of that season. But what relevance does fatherhood have to this sad month, in which we commemorate the most destructive and terrifying events that have happened throughout Jewish history?

Even if you explain that the father in question is our Father in Heaven, you’d have to wonder why the calendar makers would choose a month of mourning over our national calamities, including the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, to memorialize our relationship with G‑d.

Firm, But Fair

I was listening to a lecture the other night, warning about the worrying growth of Internet addiction in society. The speaker is an ex-cop currently touring Australia with a message of prevention and protection. He spoke about Facebook and pornography, and gave advice to parents and guidance to rabbis. It was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying.

During question time, one of the mothers asked him to clarify his advice about putting appropriate safeguards on children’s Internet access. She was worried that if she were to insist that her kids “friend” her on Facebook and tell her their e‑mail passwords, she’d “upset her children, and they’d see it as a lack of trust.”

A family is not a democracy; if anything, it’s more like a benevolent dictatorship.

The presenter wasn’t buying it. Obviously, he pointed out, each case is different, and each family has to work out its own age-appropriate rules; but he questioned whether she wasn’t confusing her role of a parent with that of a friend.

Friends are there for empathy and absolute acceptance. Parents are supposed to provide direction. It is our job, as parents, to lay down clear behavioral expectations and guidelines. A family is not a democracy; if anything, it’s more like a benevolent dictatorship.

It’s a funny thing, but experience shows that those people who spend all their time and energy trying to buy their kids’ love will often end up with neither affection nor respect, while those who exercise authority, in a loving and fair manner, have a far greater chance of maintaining their children’s friendship and admiration.

Nobody enjoys doing it, but sometimes you’ve even got to punish your children for their own good. If a child is convinced that his parents love him absolutely, and have nothing but his best interest at heart, he’ll be more willing to accept admonishment. No child enjoys being disciplined, but if the emotional boundaries have been clearly set out in advance, kids will have the wherewithal to acknowledge their parents’ perspective on the issue.

It’s easy to show love when the kids are behaving, but children have to know that we love them under all circumstances. Saying “yes” to everything buys a child’s temporary appreciation, but the true test of parenting is how they react when you’ve said “no.” Do you love your child because he’s happy, or is he happy because you love him?

This is the month of Av, when we, the Jewish people, misbehaved and were duly punished for our mistakes. The Temples were destroyed as punishment for our immorality and misbehavior. Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land. We disappointed Him, and he responded in (un)kind, but He always remained our Father. No circumstance or sin will ever break the essential connection between Jew and G‑d, because a real parent remains a parent forever.

The other months are full of fun and laughter. G‑d created our world and saved us from Egypt; He’s gracious and constantly giving: what’s not to like? But it is during this month of Av, when we let Him down so badly and He laid down the law of diminishing returns, that He truly shows himself to be our Father, and we, in turn, submit to His loving authority.