As a person who does not follow the Mets, or like the Mets, or even particularly care about the Mets, it doesn’t make a difference to me whether one or all of their players show up for any given game.
This week—the first week of the 2014 Major League Baseball season—one Met in particular, Daniel Murphy, missed some games to be with his wife, who had just had a baby. He was out on what we call paternity leave, something no normal human being with even a single decent hair anywhere on their body would disagree with.
Some New York sports hosts apparently don’t have a single hair of decency.
Long-time WFAN host Mike Francesa—who was amazing when he was paired with Chris Russo, but who someone apparently forgot to power down after Russo left for satellite years ago—has called the idea of paternity leave a “scam.” His colleague Boomer Esiason took it a cringe-inducing step further. Boomer said Murphy’s wife should have had a C-section before the season started, so the player could have been there for the season’s first few games.
Maybe this is just a statement about our society and where we are with our perspective on C-sections these days. The procedure has become so routine that apparently some people don’t realize what a C-section really is. What Boomer Esiason misses, probably because he never had to have his own gut ripped open, or possibly because someone’s already given him a C-section of the brain, is that a C-section is not a paper cut. It’s not on a level with stubbing your toe. It’s not like going to the dentist and getting a tooth pulled. A C-section is a surgery. A major, painful surgery. And one that often hinders a mother’s ability to immediately bond with her baby, at that. It’s one thing if the procedure is medically necessary. And if a woman actually chooses to do it, at least it’s that: her choice. But to impose a surgery on a woman who may not need it just so a guy can be there for a couple of baseball games? For a team that’s not even expected to contend this season? When the baby may not be ready to be born? Help me out here, because I’m trying to decide: Is Boomer Esiason selfish, offensive, and ill-informed, or is he just stark raving out-of-his-mind nuts?
(P.S.: Murphy’s wife ended up having a C-section. But not because some ex-jock radio host thought her loving, caring husband wasn’t playing his pro sport hard enough.)
Then there’s Francesa. I’m not sure which of these guys’ viewpoints scare me more, but I think it might be this guy. This guy has a wide reach and a long-standing reputation for being a voice of sports in New York. I hope none of the new or soon-to-be dads in his area took any of what this guy said seriously. I hope none of them are going to let what he said about paternity leave being a scam influence their own behavior with their children. Moms need dads around when babies are born. Babies need dads around when babies are born. Not every dad can afford to be there. Not every dad has a job that will let him be off. But when he can be, and wants to be, he should be—plain and simple. The insinuation that someone else—a paid nurse—should just step in and do a dad’s job because the dad can afford to pay for a nurse is ludicrous. I would hate to have been Francesa’s wife after the birth of any of their children, because pardon my French, but it appears he didn’t give a shit.
I have two kids. Both of them boys. Both of them mean the world to me. I spend as much time with my kids as the universe will allow me. And that’s been the case since the day they were born. (Excluding naps. No parents hate it when kids nap.) I can’t imagine having been there for their birth, and then getting in the car and going back to work because I was bored, as Francesa brags about doing. Sorry, I don’t care what you do for a living—salesman, ballplayer, mega millionaire radio host—but I have a seriously hard time buying a father’s commitment to his children when he can’t get out of the birth room fast enough.
Mike Francesa seems to think he’s from a time when dads sat around smoking cigars and patting each other’s backs and not changing diapers. I don’t know if this time ever existed, or if guys like Mike Francesa—with no heart and no apparent understanding for the meaning of fatherhood—just like to believe it existed to excuse their own boorish behavior. But some of us dads actually care about our children. Most of us do. Almost all of us do. We want to be there. We want to see them grow. We want to get to know them every step of the way. Major League Baseball has a three-day paternity leave policy. Daniel Murphy is entitled to use it. He’s entitled to be there to change a few diapers, to cuddle with his baby, to lend his wife the support he promised when they walked down the aisle and pledged their lives to each other. Not just for the first kid. Not just for the second. For every kid he has, even if he has a hundred. (And God bless his wife if she manages that many.)
I’m as big a fan of baseball as anyone I know. I’m keenly aware of baseball’s significance in this country. I plan to bond with my own kids over baseball. It’s a part of the fabric of what makes this country great. But baseball isn’t fatherhood. It’s not a substitute for fatherhood. And if you’re one of the people lucky enough to play baseball for a living, you shouldn’t have to put baseball over your wife and kids just because some loudmouth chair goblin sitting in a studio gets paid to flap his jaw about you getting on the field. Daniel Murphy should take all the time his collectively bargained paternity leave policy allows him, if he wants it. I have all the respect in the world for a guy who cares about his family and wants to bond with his brand new baby enough to do that. I have no respect at all for Boomer or Francesa. Fatherhood is beautiful, and these two don’t have a clue.
Jonathan David Morris is the author of “Versus Nurture.” Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/readjdm.