Remember when Mets player Daniel Murphy was widely praised for choosing to miss the first two games of the season because he took paternity leave to support his wife, who had just given birth to their first child?
That’s because it didn’t happen.
Instead, Murphy invoked a flurry of controversy and criticism.
A popular sports radio host responded to Murphy’s decision with, “You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse. What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”
Fox News host Gregg Jarrett complained that Murphy “is rich. He could have like twenty nannies taking care of his tired wife, and he’s got to take off two days? It’s absurd. It’s preposterous.”
CBS sports radio host Boomer Esaison said, “Quite frankly, 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.’”
Angry Mets fans took to Twitter to deride and insult Murphy’s decision, calling paternity leave “for women” and “stupid” and something he did not “deserve.”
Many reactions seemed a little tinted with jealousy. After all, only about 20 percent of workplaces offer men paternity leave. And while having greater means can ease some of the difficulties of the early days of having a newborn, there is simply no replacement for the presence of a father.
Paternity leave has been linked with countless benefits to both the mother and the child. But the Murphy example, while admittedly a little extreme, suggests that there is still a social stigma in the culture about paternity leave. Other sociologists have found this to be true as well. In fact, men often face the same anxieties as women about taking time off from work: fear that it will hurt their position at work and concern about seeming overly preoccupied with home life are just a couple.
At its root, the problem is a growing cultural devaluation of the role of parenthood and the view that home life is just an inhibition to personal desires and professional success. While there are certainly policies, be they governmental or from the workplace, that can help to correct this, real social change will require brave and positive examples. It will require men and women in the public eye taking scorn and ridicule to show that family must always come first, and that there is only nobility in a husband and wife acting as equal partners in the rearing of children, especially in the early and delicate days and years.
Murphy’s response to the vitriol was a homerun. He said:
That’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a parent, is you get that choice. My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day—that being Wednesday—due to the fact that she can’t travel for two weeks. 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.
As a nation, we may disagree about whether leave should be mandated or incentivized, paid or unpaid, how long it should be, and so on. But we should all be able to agree that when a man has the chance to put his wife and child first, he should. It’s funny to think that America owes a second baseman a debt of gratitude for giving pro-family policy a little bump. But the fact that Daniel Murphy came under so much criticism for taking three days, three days, of paternity leave, shows that America still has a long way to go when it comes to valuing the contribution of dads in family life.