Ball Player Takes Parental Leave — Radio Jocks Freak Out
It’s a kind of litmus test for the cultural shift that’s happening, as more and more dads insist on being hands-on during their children’s earliest days: New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy missed the season opener and took three whole days off when his first child was born last week.
Cue the end of the world (according to these guys).
Holy shit, people. This is what former NFLer and WFAN host Boomer Esiason had the cojones to say.
“Quite frankly, I woulda said ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day.’ I’m sorry, this is what makes our money, this is how we’re gonna live our life, this is gonna give my child the opportunity to be a success.”
Mike Francesa, a well-known blowhard who hosts a sports call-in show on New York City’s WFAN, thought himself a little cooler about the idea of missing maybe one game.
“I have no problem with being there: you see the birth, then you get back. One day, I understand. But you’re a Major League Baseball Player: your wife doesn’t need your help those first couple days, you know that. What are you gonna do — look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days?”
What happened next was refreshing: dads themselves called into the radio show and called him out for being out of touch. Francesa of course (as blowhards do) interrupted and slammed every one of them, but not before a few dads pointed out birth is an important moment and that maybe it’s a good idea for dads to learn how to take care of the baby.
Of course, there was also a gentler brand of criticism aimed at Murphy’s decision to take pat leave. ESPN’s Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg talked cheerfully about how quickly they returned to their desks post-baby — and their wives’ helpful attitudes:
This is how we get things done in the land of rigidly enforced gender roles: marshall the nearest ‘Cool Girl‘ sports wife you can find, and have her show the other ladies how it’s done. Mike Golic:
“She steadfastly told me, ‘Go be at the game. I’ll take care of pushing the kid out, you go to the game.’ Even for the first child. I never had to make the decision, it wasn’t on a game day … but my wife absolutely said, ‘You go.’
Gee, thanks for the ventriloquist-wife tutorial, Mike.
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Here’s the thing. As heartening as that flood of support for Murphy is — as is Esiason’s panicked reversal (he’s since retracted his remarks) — there’s a stubbornly persistent underlying issue. And that is our conviction as a society that work life and family life are necessarily oppositional, and that an ever-lengthening workday is something we cannot fight.
You only have to listen to radio-jock Francesa’s ramblings slip from ‘In my day, we didn’t take a day off for childbirth’ to ‘we didn’t even take time off for a death in the family.’ Unless we take that parental leave — fathers and mothers alike, and regardless of genders in that union — then we will do our employers’ work for them in equating ‘seriousness’ with ‘not taking leave under any circumstances.’
Luckily, these dudes whom I’ve spent hours listening to so that you don’t have to are literally dying out. The younger cohort, like the dads who called in and the average Joes on the street, responded quite differently.
Take Chris Hayes, sports nut and host of the MSNBC show, All In With Chris. In a delicious twist, Hayes was himself on paternity leave but took a moment to chat by phone with Joy Reid (whose sarcastic intro is note-perfect, and worth watching in full).
“There’s actually a pretty nice, tight analogy here between cable news and baseball. They play 162 games; so he’s given the 3 games which, by the way, is in the collective agreement the union negotiated … Childbirth can be a pretty intense experience; I don’t know if Mike Francesca is aware of how the whole thing works.
But also there is this kind of macho culture, in which fatherhood is this remote undertaking [and] the domestic sphere belongs to the mother. I’m sorry, but it’s crap! It’s this patriarchal view of what the relationship is between genders, and it’s incredibly imprisoning for men.
Take some time with your frickin’ kid and take some time with the partner in your life who brought the kid into the world! That actually is part of being a man. Don’t listen to the propaganda that tells you you can’t do it, if your workplace has the policy that you can. Don’t listen to the institutional side-eye you’re given.”
In the very next segment, journalist and badass Rebecca Traister shows up to break down the “What’s he gonna do, look at the baby?” comments about a male parent’s role in the early days.
“This is actually at the core of a bigger system of how you divide the labour of parenting. When you have a new baby – in a heterosexual union – neither person knows what to do with it. But if the man isn’t there, the woman learns how to do it, and then she’s the one who does it forever.
Which is true, right? How soon and how often a male parent takes an active role sets the tone for the years to come. It’s why I clamped my mouth shut and (mostly) stopped myself giving corrective advice in the earliest moments and days my partner cared for our now three-year-old. In Traister’s experience, her husband showed her the rest of baby care that didn’t involve breastfeeding, which gave him expertise and led ultimately to more equally divided labour. As Traister explained, so succinctly:
“It’s not just for the first few days or hours or weeks, but for years … that’s how we get an unequal system of parenting. What happens in those first few moments extends way beyond, and is part of a much bigger gendered system.”
And of course, ultimately, three days isn’t going to cut it.
What about you, though? Did you take as much parental leave as you wanted — or did you get back to work sooner than you wanted in order to ‘make a good impression’? Did you have generous parental leave, but felt you might be penalized if you used it? What’s the culture of parenthood at your workplace?
Do you know any opposite-sex couples whose parental leave was entirely shared?
Helen Spitzer is senior editor at Bunch Family.