I’m not a major league baseball player, but I am a father. That’s why I celebrated New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy’s decision to take paternity leave and witness the birth of his first child. Other sports fans, however, were not as thrilled. Fans and sports-talk radio hosts blasted Murphy for missing the first two games of the year. Some of the harshest criticism came from WFAN Radio.
“You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse,” said radio host, Mike Francesa. “What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”
On a different WFAN show, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason added fuel to the fire by suggesting that Murphy’s wife should have had a “C-section before the season starts.”
While I’m disappointed that these radio hosts voiced these opinions, I’m not surprised by them. Unfortunately, our country still has a way to go when it comes to paternity leave and father’s rights.
During my 20-year tenure at my former company, taking time off for any reason was seen as a lack of dedication and commitment. Admitting that you needed time to rest and recuperate was also seen as a sign of weakness. One of the guys’ favorite quotes was “If our jobs were easy, then our wives would be out here doing them.” In their minds, a man’s only role was to go to work and support his family. Caring for children was woman’s work.
I heard the snide remarks when I took off a week for the births of my first two children. That’s not what real men did. Real men worked. These antiquated notions of gender roles troubled me and I felt as I needed to challenge the corporate culture.
In 2006, when I was expecting the birth of my third child, I asked our HR Vice President if the company would ever offer paternity leave to workers in the U.S. He gave me a convoluted answer that essentially meant no. Over the course of my wife’s pregnancy, I kept asking the company’s executives about paternity leave and they kept giving me excuses as to why it wasn’t a good time to implement such a policy change.
As the date of my son’s birth neared, I decided to take two weeks off instead of one. I had over 400 hours of vacation time banked and I was determined to take a sufficient amount of time to spend with my wife and child. When I handed my vacation request to my boss, he looked at it and said, ”I never took off when my kids were born and they turned out fine.”
“I’m glad to hear that, sir,” I said.
“What in the hell are you going to do?” He asked. “Your wife doesn’t need your help.”
“I’m going to support my wife and spend time with my child,” I said.
“I’m only approving one week.,” he said as he reluctantly signed my form and slid it across his desk. “Make sure to keep your Blackberry on.”
I spent the entire week taking calls, answering e-mail messages, and working on projects. My boss actually called me while I was in the delivery room to ask a question about work. It was as if I were simply working from home instead of bonding with my newborn son. I was frustrated with the company’s lack of consideration and so was wife.
Many of my co-workers felt the same frustration. They wished they could spend more time with their families, but they rarely asked for vacation, paternity leave, or any other time-off because they feared the ridicule and repercussions. The guys who worked the longest hours and spent the most time in the office were the ones who were rewarded with promotions, interesting assignments, and raises.
Obviously, many companies need to change their internal cultures to reflect the prevailing societal norms. Gender roles continue to evolve and more men are placing a greater emphasis on family. We may never achieve the perfect work/life balance, but companies have to give their employees the time away from work to be actively involved moms and dads.
I applaud the Major League Baseball for implementing a paternity leave policy as part of their collective bargaining agreement. I also applaud, Mets manager Terry Collins for supporting Murphy.
“I certainly feel it’s very unfair to criticize Dan Murphy,” Collins said.
I wish more bosses were like Collins and more companies like MLB. Fathers play important roles in their families lives beyond bringing home the bacon. Despite the opinions of some narrow-minded sports fans, a father should be given the time he needs to bond with his newborn child. No job is more important than being a dad.