The New York Mets are—and I say this with all the love and frustration of a lifelong fan—a woeful team that even the most optimistic among us expect to have a lousy year. So, of all the players on the team, why is second baseman Daniel Murphy taking heat from sports commentators? Because he missed the first two games of the new season, taking a paternity leave to be there for the birth of his son.
"Assuming the birth went well, the wife is fine, the baby is fine, 24 hours and then you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball."
And from another: "One day [off] I understand. And in the old days they didn't do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You're a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help."
For dads, how long to take off after baby's birth can be a tough call. Despite the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees up to 12 unpaid weeks of leave for men and women alike, not many fathers take more than a few days off when their little one arrives. There's pressure from employers to contend with, and the self-imposed pressure (real or imagined) of wanting to be seen in the best light at work, not to mention cultural forces about men's roles to content with. And, of course, unpaid leave is an economic pressure for nearly everyone and an impossibility for many—major-league ballplayers excluded.
To slam Murphy's two-game leave as treasonous is absurd. Here's what he had to say to ESPN about the brouhaha, referring to his wife and his desire to be there for her:
"It's going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience -- a father seeing his wife -- she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off.... It felt, for us, like the right decision to make."
While he was away, I am sure Murphy was thinking of his team often and even missing them, just as he will be thinking of his newborn back home as he dedicates himself to his team for the remainder of the season. Finding the right work-life balance is no easier for a multimillionaire baseball player than it is for you and me, and we all feel torn between our commitments to our families, our jobs, and ourselves.
I struggled with these issues as well. Taking two weeks off when each of my daughters was born was a no-brainer. But now, as my wife heads back to work after her own five-month maternity leave, I am on the threshold of a longer paternity leave—five weeks, starting Monday. Making the decision to take the time off involved a lot of intense discussions with my wife and internal soul-searching about what is most important to me and how I want to spend and remember this time in my life. Stepping back, even for a few weeks, from a job that is busy and that means a lot to me, is scary, and it remains something that is never easy.
Far from criticizing Murphy's leave, we should be celebrating it. The more of us who take time to be with our families, the better it is—for ourselves, our kids, and our wives or partners. And the more men who take paternity leave, the better it will be for all new fathers, because over time, it will become normal and expected, not something to criticize or even remark on. Especially seeing athletes do it, those most manly of professionals, will hopefully encourage others to do the same. Yes, there are occasionally things that are more important than supporting the team. Instead of criticizing, let's look to a future in which taking time to be with our kids is the norm, not the exception, and in which a mere two days is laughably short.
See you in May. Until then, I'm off daddying.
Image: New York Mets Daniel Murphy and wife Victoria Tori Ahern attend the Aces, Inc. All Star party at Marquee on July 14, 2013 in New York City via Shutterstock.