What kind of man actually takes parental leave?

The earth shakes as the dinosaurs come trudging into view. Wham, wham, wham.

Dave Zirin at The Nation peers at the enormous footprints.

This is not another shooting-fish-in-a-barrel commentary about the antediluvian swinishness of Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa. This is not another swipe at their comments criticizing the efforts of Mets second basemen Daniel Murphy for missing opening day to be with his wife for the birth of their child. For those who missed it, Esiason opined, “I would have 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 going to live our life. This is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to, because I’m a baseball player.’”

Fellow troglodytic troll of the NYC sports radio airwaves Mike Francesa commented, “You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse.” Francesa also called the paternity leave at his own company “a scam-and-a-half.”

That’s great, isn’t it? So perceptive, so sensitive. Hey, the guy has money, so what the hell would he take parental leave for? That’s for poor people who can’t pay someone else to have children for them.

I spoke to my friend Martha, who is a midwife—and a Mets fan—about their comments. She said simply, “I would ask if they knew how it sounded, talking about this woman like she is a human incubator to be cut open in a dangerous, often unnecessary surgical procedure so Murphy can make it to Citi Field on time. I would ask that, but honestly, if you can’t see why the asshole-levels on these comments are off the charts, then I can’t help you.”

I also spoke with Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player and someone who has devoted his life to challenging the ways in which sports have the capacity to communicate a toxic, destructive brand of masculinity. Ehrmann said, “I think these comments are pretty shortsighted and reflect old school thinking about masculinity and fatherhood. Paternity leave is critical in helping dads create life long bonding and sharing in the responsibilities of raising emotionally healthy children. To miss the life altering experience of ‘co-laboring’ in a delivery room due to nonessential work-related responsibilities is to create false values.”

Why would anyone even want to be a man like that? After the age of about 15, I mean.

Ehrmann also pointed out the ways in which these statements create a culture that normalizes the alienation between fathers and children. He said, “Comments like these put every man in a position to think about career and co workers opinions ahead of father/husband/partner roles. So even in companies with paternity leave, many new dads won’t or feel like they can’t take advantage of leave without a stigma being attached to them…. This is one more arena where sports/athletes could be a metaphor for social change and elevate the birth/nurture/fatherhood role and responsibilities over work.”

He then said to me that this kind of sexist mentality not only harms families, not only harms men, but also quite specifically harms athletes. “I’m convinced the number-one common denominator in locker rooms is father-child dysfunction,” he said. “It’s what pathologically elevates many performances. ‘I will prove to [the coach/father figure] I am worthy of my dad’s love and acceptance,’ at the expense of self and others. If any group should understand need for dads in delivery rooms it should be athletes and the athletic world.”

Well, also the tech world, and the STEM world, and the skeptic world, and the Twitter world – quite a lot of worlds really.



  1. Johnny Vector says

    I can think of a couple cases where work would reasonably take precedence over being there for your child’s birth. If you’re in orbit repairing the Hubble, say. Or you’re Nick Fury and Asgardians are attacking Earth. I’m sure there are also similar occasions that have actually happened. Playing baseball really doesn’t reach that level.

  2. Cuttlefish says

    I did not have parental leave available to me… so I taught in the evenings, to be able to spend days with the cuttlekids. I wanted to; cuttlespouse couldn’t wait to get back to work.

    So yeah, I am a dad who took the mommy track. I tried to calculate how much money it cost me at one point. Doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t be the price paid for being a parent, but in my case it was, and I’d spend it again in half a heartbeat. (I wouldn’t force it on anyone–it’s not for everyone.)

    Sorry, not terribly on-topic–I wouldn’t change my choice, but I would change the system. And since the system that did this is one that hurts women so much more, being a stay-at-home dad is one of the biggest reasons I am a feminist.

  3. imthegenieicandoanything says

    I’m reasonably sure ANYTHING – missing their regular 2pm Happy Hour and watching “Sharknado” again included – would “take precedence” for these so-called men. That callousness is what they consider to be masculinity.

  4. carlie says

    The part that really got me, besides all of it, was that the amount of parental leave the baseball association provides is three days. They were giving him hell over taking three days off.

  5. weatherwax says

    Reminds me of my own days playing little league, way back in the ’70s. A lot of the boys I played with had no desire to be there. Their fathers made them play, because that would make real men out of them. Fathers that I never met, because they never came to any practice, games, or awards ceremonies.

  6. cactuswren says

    If anyone wants to see the Chris Hayes interview cited at #1, it’s at http://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/railing-against-paternity-leave-215804483803

    My favorite quote: “I say this as a sports fan, someone that borders on obsessive at times about my sports love — but the whole way that sport functions as a business is for everyone involved to kind of suspend disbelief, and everyone collectively to create the fiction that it’s important. When it is not important! It just is simply not important. It doesn’t matter. It does not matter if the Mets lose three games. It doesn’t matter! At all! In the world! Murphy’s kid is going to grow up fifty years from now: ‘How did the Mets do in the first three games of the season in 2014?’ No one will know the fricking answer, I guarantee you!”

  7. says

    C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day

    Sir, you are very, very ill. As your doctor, I prescribe a strict course of house-husbanding for you, with shit and vomit cleaning, to be taken day-in and day-out for two to twenty years until such time as your children appreciate you despite your despicable outlook on life.

  8. iknklast says

    I had my son before paternity leave was the norm. My husband took off the whole day, but his boss said “You will be at work by noon, right?” He wasn’t. Then we agreed that we would split the time when our son was sick, each of us taking off on alternate days. When he got chicken pox, I took off the first day, my husband the second. His boss informed him when he got back he wouldn’t be doing that again. Taking off with kids was a wife’s job. (Probably until the women he worked with needed to take off, I imagine!) No reference to the fact that I was working, too, at a job that required me to be present as much as he was needed. And I made more money than he did, so my taking off was a potentially bigger loss to us. My boss had a cow about my taking off; I could have lost my job because my husband worked for an asshole.

  9. Blanche Quizno says

    To think that a C-section is such a viable option, that it’s “normal” for a woman to be cut open to take her baby out, to expect that it’s even a BETTER option than waiting for natural labor to start, to imagine (or not CARE) that it has detrimental effects on the baby’s health (and, of course, the mother’s) – OMG. There’s something MAJORLY wrong with our medical system that permits women to schedule C-section deliveries for the sake of convenience. That should be OFF the table.

  10. octopod says

    I know this is totally not the point, but I have to ask…Elective C-section?? Isn’t a scheduled induction (big shot of pitocin) how they do that sort of thing usually?

  11. says

    Perhaps those who don’t see the value in parents taking leave shouldn’t be parents. What sort of person are those two that they don’t see a need to be involved?

  12. mildlymagnificent says

    I know this is totally not the point, but I have to ask…Elective C-section?? Isn’t a scheduled induction (big shot of pitocin) how they do that sort of thing usually?

    Not necessarily. Elective induction is only a good option if the foetus is in the right position – head down, ready and able to respond appropriately to contractions. Starting labour in less than optimal conditions frequently results in an emergency caesarean anyway.

    (I know this because my obstetrician refused to induce when my pregnancy was 3 weeks overdue and I was distinctly not keen on a C section. Because the baby’s position was such that labour would be prolonged and extremely painful and there’d have to be surgery eventually anyway.)

  13. Gen, Uppity Ingrate and Ilk says

    I think in giving birth, as in all things, the person whose body is on the line should get to choose their method of delivery, so I’m completely for elective c-sections if that’s the choice that’s made. Having that choice forced on someone, though? Unacceptable. And the way fathering is seen as less important as mothering is not only completely idiotic, but it’s contra all the research we have available.

    So these people are not only assholes, they do actual damage.

  14. rq says

    After I gave birth to the second and third of our children, Husband was back at work by noon… to hand in some paperwork and take his allotted two weeks off.
    Honestly, if we could afford it, he’d take the ‘mommy’ track and I’d go all career-development on him (we do day/evening switches for now, since we both have to work). And I don’t care how many of his relatives give him/us the side-eye, because our children are happy and connected with both parents.

    I’m glad Daniel Murphy took the time off, and I hope he’s not dealing with too much shit in the aftermath. And those guys who are saying he should put baseball over childbirth are shits.

  15. says

    Could we stop hating on C-sections, please?
    There’s nothing wrong with having a c-section for whatever reason as long the person who actually has it deems it sufficient.
    And there’s also no such thing as “co-labouring”. I most definitely appreciated my husband being at my side, but “we” were not pregnant and “we” did not labour.
    My husband got one extra day of paid holiday for the birth of each child and took 2 more weeks of paid holidays. He could have taken more time off at a reduced salary, paid by the government. But that’s usually the reason so few men take parental leave: They earn more than the women, because for some reason a mechanic’s work is worth more than a nurse’s, therefore it’s financially impossible for the family to do with 100% of her salary and only 67% of his.

  16. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I’m glad Daniel Murphy took the time off, and I hope he’s not dealing with too much shit in the aftermath. And those guys who are saying he should put baseball over childbirth are shits.

    Heck, I have him on my fantasy team and I didn’t even vaguely begrudge him the time off. Even if I did have to start *grumble* DJ LeMahieu in his spot for three games. 😉

    I was lucky enough to have build up enough accrued vacation time that I took a month off with each of my children. My only regret is that I couldn’t take even more time.

  17. AsqJames says

    Sooooo…all the MRAs are totally up in arms about this policing of male gender norms right?

  18. shari says

    C-section recovery takes a hell of a long time – I’ve had two! (one emergency, and the second was because my dr. didn’t want me to risk a natural birth, not to mention my second child was also in distress and we needed her out immediately.) I could only walk slightly faster than a lamposts shadow for days afterward. You aren’t allowed to carry anything heavier than your own baby for two weeks. Not to mention the anemia, the exhaustion, the ‘regular’ hormone circus, the bursting into tears (or, flipping out in rage when you drop your coffee cup), the ‘too tired to get into the badly needed shower’, the achy breasts – seriously –

    anyone who thinks an elective c-section is an easy process, whereby you can merrily send the hubby off to work (after you pack his lunch) – shouldn’t be allowed to be near a voting both, microphone, or sharp objects. The connection with reality seems distant at best.

  19. Numenaster says

    AsqJames beat me to it, but I’ll say it anyway. This is the kind of issue that SHOULD attract hordes of angry MRAs.

  20. tmscott says

    I remember once reading an account by an OB who worked back when fathers waited in the waiting room for news of the delivery. He said that he kept two separate billing schedules, and which one he used depended on the father’s first words as he (the doctor) entered the waiting room post delivery.
    The standard rate was for, “Is it a boy, or a girl?”
    The discounted rate was for, “How is my wife?”

  21. John Horstman says

    I also spoke with Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player and someone who has devoted his life to challenging the ways in which sports have the capacity to communicate a toxic, destructive brand of masculinity.

    After a decade of gender studies, I’m pretty confident that there is no such thing as a non-toxic, non-destructive brand of masculinity. Any attempts are invariably coded as effeminate. What differentiates masculinity from femininity or unmarked behaviors/demeanors/attitudes (at least in contemporary USA) is, in fact, the harmful, problematic bits, combined with abjection of non-masculine-coded (mostly feminine-coded) behaviors/demeanors/attitudes. Are there people who want to get rid of the toxic bits but don’t want the good bits to be universally available? Like, men shouldn’t be combative as a behavioral norm, but, say, mathematical competence should still be seen as masculine/unfeminine? Or people who want to maintain the categorizations but don’t want them to be normative, such that a behavior might be masculine while another is feminine, but trying to describe people as masculine/feminine (or even men/women) is a fool’s errand because all of us invariably engage in behaviors that are coded as masculine AND behaviors coded as feminine? Again, what the point there? If you’ve eliminated the bad bits and universalized the rest (and presumably are attempting the same project with femininity), then what meaning does the gendered categorization hold any more? You’ve just dismantled gender entirely, which I take as my explicitly-stated project right from the start. Gender is only gender because it’s normative (i.e. coercive). Stop trying to fix it when instead we should break it; we’ve got to break it before it breaks us.

    (Credit to Emily Haines for that last sentence.)

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