New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy recently took some heat from a few peers of his in sports media for taking the first few games off of the new baseball season to be with his wife while she gave birth to their baby. In particular, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said on the WFAN radio show that Murphy needed to “get his ass back to work,” and that Murphy's wife should have undergone a C-section before the beginning of the season so he would not miss any games.
This kind of language is insensitive enough, but it is especially shocking coming from Esiason, who is a father to a child with special needs himself. Boomer has since retracted his comments, apologizing not only for his insensitivity, but for dragging Daniel's personal life, and that of his wife, Tori, into the public conversation. But if anything good can come from this, it is that it has raised the issue of a father's role in the birth in the early months or years of his child's life.
The fact that such comments could even be imagined, let alone uttered on air to the listening public, points to a larger problem within the American male culture. Despite advances in opportunities in many respects for women, combined with an increasing number of men opting for nontraditional roles in both their careers and their roles as parents and caregivers, there are still stigmas attached into many cases to those men who choose their families over their careers.
For some business leaders, it is simply a matter of ignorance; it was not long ago when men might take an afternoon to pace the halls of the hospital while their wives gave birth, only to return to work very soon thereafter. They were not expected to be involved in the day-to-day upbringing of their children, and so this shift of more proactive fatherhood presents a learning opportunity for some who are still more or less married to the tradition of generations past.
Even as more corporate bodies offer dads leave, there still are those who consider it a betrayal of manhood to sacrifice work over family. It is a sign of weakness, or femininity, or somehow a betrayal of some implicit man-code. Esiason’s comments are a perfect case in point. So I thought I would offer a few specific reasons why it is important for men to take the time to be with their partners — to be present at their children’s births and during those first weeks or months, whenever possible.
1. Attachment starts immediately. I remember my wife talking about how, before either of our children were born, she loved them so deeply and intimately already. This made sense to me, given that she was carrying them inside of her, and had the experience of feeling them grow and change along with her. And though I shared some degree of affection, the whole fatherhood thing was fairly abstract until that moment when I was able to see and hold our babies. There is so much bonding for dads that happens in those early days that is important for healthy relationships throughout the rest of life together. Though it is certainly possible to be madly in love with any child, it certainly helps to be present and engaged in those early moments.
2. Our priorities are messed up. There was a story recently on National Public Radio about a woman from the United States who took a job in Norway. She put in lots of extra hours, working evenings and weekends, to gain the favor of her new employer. But when it came to review time, she was actually marked down for working too much. They felt that her work–life balance was not as it should be. It seems that the ferocious work ethic embraced by many in the United States is more of an exception rather than the rule in other countries. And considering our overall health and happiness indexes, it's fair to say we should learn something from being the outliers here.
3. We need to be advocates for change. The only way the policies change within corporate America, especially if the shift is not positive for the short-term bottom line, is if people press for them to change. We should expect, and argue for, paternity leave not just for ourselves, but for our children and all of those workers who follow us. We can help create a “new normal” in which mothers and fathers are considered co-equal as parents.
4. You never get that time back. I am a firm believer that the birth of a child is one of the most sacred miracles we can witness with our own eyes. I have never felt the palpable presence of God more than when I saw those new little people gasp for breath and open their eyes for the first time. Continuing to watch them grow, learn, and adapt to the world around them not only has helped me teach them much of what I believe to be good and true; they have taught me so much more in return about how to love, to be present, and to bear witness to the holy moments which can so easily pass us by if we let them.
Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bibleand Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.