As a father, being present for the birth of my child was important as a show of support for my wife. I was there, as Francesa so pejoratively put it, to “look at” my wife in the hospital bed when she came out of surgery.
I am not a Mets fan: I detest the Mets, their fans, and most of their players. (Not on a personal level, mind you. Well, except for my Mets-loving editor here at CH,because with him, it’s personal.) So when I saw the headline on this story about Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy receiving criticism by some members of the New York media for taking paternity leave, my first reaction was a Mr. Burns-esque “Excellent.” My more considered reaction was disgust.
To recap: Daniel Murphy took several days off from work for the birth of his first child. Because he plays baseball for a living, this decision upset sports radio host Mike Francesa, who said: “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?” It also upset talking-head and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, who suggested on air that Murphy’s wife should have had a “C-section before the seasons starts.” Esiason later apologized; Francesa’s station will likely force him to make a hollow apology later today. (Thankfully, some of Francesa’s listeners already blasted him for being stuck in the past.) [Update: Nevermind. Rather than apologize, Francesa decided to double down.]
To the extent that Esiason’s comments were meant as a joke, I think they’re very funny: the idea of planning major surgery around April baseball for a team predicted to miss the playoffs is hilarious. But to the extent these comments were not a joke, and also setting aside the argument that Murphy had the right to take paternity leave under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (the document that governs the employer-employee relationship in Major League Baseball), the criticism of Murphy is alarming.
As a father, being present for the birth of my child was important as a show of support for my wife. I was there, as Francesa so pejoratively put it, to “look at” my wife in the hospital bed when she came out of surgery. I was also there to help my wife recuperate over the next few days. (Although nurses were there too, I didn’t need a ballplayer’s salary to hire them: their services were covered by our insurance along with the lengthy hospital stay that follows a doctor cutting into a woman’s abdomen and removing another living being.) Furthermore, like Tori Murphy, my wife had to undergo a C-section; as a result, I was the first in my family to hold my daughter outside of the womb, I cut her umbilical cord, and I introduced her to her grandmothers in the waiting room. In short, I was also there for my daughter.
As a Catholic, I couldn’t help but connect the dots between the sentiment behind this criticism and a concern noted by Benedict XVI over a decade ago. Prior to the paternity leave kerfuffle, I stumbled upon this passage on page 428 of “God and the World” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Peter Seewald’s excellent conversation in book form):
Wherever love for children is extinguished, then really a great deal is lost. . . . Here, something fundamental has changed with newfound wealth. This is in fact a great temptation for Western societies, to see children as competitors who take away from us something of our living space, something of our future. In just the same way, children are then regarded at best as a possession and as an image of oneself. People are not, in the end, ready to accept them in their own right, with all that must be given them in terms of time and the whole of one’s life.
Following this excerpt as a framework for understanding the criticism of Murphy’s decision, Francesa’s view of parenthood regards a child as a competitor for a ballplayer’s time, which threatens the future of the ballplayer’s career and the fortunes of his team. Though his clarification today attempts to cabin this criticism to “unique jobs,” Francesa’s comments summarize one view of starting a family: birthing a child is like creating a black hole into which one’s career, hobbies, and friends disappear. Similarly, Esiason’s comments about the timing of a C-section invokes Bendict’s haunting image of a child as a possession; as if they were purchasing a house, Esiason suggests the Murphys should have timed closing on their child to occur before the start of the season. This criticism reinforces Benedict’s lament that by holding these views “[p]eople are not, in the end, ready to accept [children] in their own right, with all that must be given them in terms of time and the whole of one’s life.”
I cannot claim the absolute moral high road in this discussion, which is why Benedict’s comments attracted my attention in the first place. If I am honest with my reader, I complain (internally) when my time is stretched thin by my toddler. And as a member of the legal profession, I recognize that despite some advances over the last twenty-five years, a family is not necessarily consonant with success in the law. (Though reading this New York Times article from 1988, I question how far we’ve advanced as a profession). It is particularly disheartening, however, for me to hear these complaints aired publicly by men of means who apparently never felt the need to compromise their lives as a result of familial obligations, instead of hearing them from the men and women making this difficult decision. Daniel Murphy’s measured response thus serves as a useful counterpoint to Francesa and Esiason’s petulant criticism.
That this criticism comes at the beginning of a 162-game season only serves to highlight its absurdity; but its absurdity would be no less real if Murphy chose to skip game seven of the World Series in the interest of his family. As I prepare for the birth of my second child, these complaints also remind me to maintain a child-centered perspective when I make career decisions that affect my family.