Earlier this week, as coincidences go, two people who are regular participants in a long-running email exchange that I'm a part of became dads for the first time on the same day. Most of the participants in this email exchange are men, several of whom are already fathers. The response was the typical excitement and congratulations, but also mixed with touching and funny stories about the difficult but amazing road ahead.
As it happens, in the same week, two baseball players made news for taking paternity leave. Our beloved Jimmy Rollins has left the Phillies to be with his wife for the birth of their second child. Daniel Murphy of the Mets has done the same for the birth of his first child.
New dads talking with other dads openly about becoming a parent -- the good, the bad, the scary, the wonderful. Professional male athletes leaving what they've trained their entire lives to do to be with their wives at one of the most special moments of their lives. This is all good. It's progress in the world of gender relations, parenting, and societal improvement.
And yet, there are still Neanderthals out there who criticize. WFAN radio hosts Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton complained that Murphy was shying away from his job. Esiason said, not jokingly, "Get your ass back to work." Carton thoughtfully added, "You get your ass back to your team and you play baseball. That’s my take on it. There’s nothing you can do anyway. You’re not breastfeeding the kid. What are you doing? I’ve got four of these little rugrats. There’s nothing to do."
Later in the day, another host, Mike Francesca repeated this sentiment. "I’d rather go out and get a couple of hits if I was a player. That’s the best thing I can do. Go play. Go make some money; you just had a kid."
There's so much to say about this (which I've done in my day job), but I've got class shortly, so I'll leave it at the following: what Esaison, Carton, Francesca, and their likes are doing is working against expanding the notion of manhood and masculinity in this country. To them, being a man means earning a living so that you can support your family financially. Beyond that, well, you either let your wife do everything else or hire people to help out.
This constricted notion of masculinity is harmful in so many ways. It harms men emotionally, as it boxes them into a stoic world unconnected with the inner lives of people around them. It harms women who are left to provide what men do not at the expense of other things they might want to do. It also harms women who suffer at the hands of men who take this emotionless state of existence to one logical extreme of being brutal and punishing, both emotionally and physically. Finally, it harms men who fail to buy into this story of how men are supposed to be, as men who act in non-stereotypical ways are ridiculed, ostracized, or at the extreme, physically attacked.
The radio hosts' positions are not harmless throw-away comments to fill airtime. Rather, they are a part of how society and culture work to force a harmful notion of manhood on everyone.
Thankfully, we have people like Rollins, Murphy, and my email friends who are actively working against this stereotype and pushing culture in another direction (whether they know that's what they're doing or not doesn't matter). Men who are public about being caring, nurturing fathers, not just people who fill bank accounts, work to break down stereotypes and open up manhood to include all sorts of people and behavior. Society needs more of this in every walk of life.
In fact, there's much for the radio hosts to be critical about. Baseball's collective bargaining agreement provides for only 3 days of paternity leave. That's not enough. Baseball players should have more time with their new families if they want. A week is much more reasonable.
For the rest of the employees out there who don't work in this unique work environment, we need to be advocating for more paternity leave. Francesca spoke out against his radio station's policy of 10 days paternity leave, calling the policy a "scam-and-a-half."
Far from it. All fathers should be able to take significant time off at the birth of a child to care for the child, be there for their partner, and generally be a caring supportive member of the family.
Men, even baseball players, need to be more than just paychecks. And cavemen like Esiason, Carton, and Francesca need to disappear from the public discourse.