Is It Time We Stop Applauding Dads for Being Dads?

paternal leave

Nick & JoAnna Garcia Swisher via MLB.com

My son, Aaron Gabriel, was born Monday 07 December 1992. For the next 6 weeks, I rarely went into the office. My first wife and I, as she was a relative pioneer as a woman in her field, decided that I was more able to weather the storm that always arose in that era when parents put their children first.

At the time, I was with an old school financial planning firm; ties and jackets required. I continued to take care of my clients. I attended staff meetings. I generated very little new business. Eyebrows were raised. Grief, both good-natured and sharp, was sent my way. For six weeks, I was a stay at home Dad. For the rest of my tenure with that firm, I continued to put our son’s needs first. As an independent contractor who met his numbers, I felt secure. I left at 4:00 to pick Aaron up at daycare. I stayed home when he was sick. I was very much an odd man out.

That was 1992. Twenty years later, paternal leave is expected. For many Dads, the absence of paternal leave can be a deal breaker in job negotiations.

Highly paid athletes, on the other hand, are often held to a different standard. For too many years, fans have often felt that because “we pay their salaries,” athletes should place the needs of the team, i.e. the rooting and betting interests of the fans, ahead of their families.

This is, of course, a complete load of crap.

Herein lies the slippery slope. Should we celebrate the athletes for merely doing what most Dads do when they put the family first? Or does the team, the tourney, the race,  come first?

Cleveland Indian Nick Swisher has a solid MLB career. One All-Star game appearance, lifetime .256 hitter, a good guy in the clubhouse, son of a MLB player – Nick knows the drill. Nick also took three days off for the birth of his first child. Three days. Not much, but MLB is the only US based sports league with a formal policy on family leave for Dads.  (Scott Behson, Ph.D.)

More importantly, it was barely noted in the media. I recall hearing the conversation on ESPN. “He should be home,” said one commentator. “Being a Dad for those first few days is more important than a couple of games,” said another. On my local sports talk radio station, Detroit’s WTKT, the conversation was overwhelmingly supportive. Not one caller thought a player’s first responsibility was to his team when a child was being born.

Phil Mickelson is a great golfer, very wealthy, and by all accounts, a solid family man. Phil’s eighth grade daughter graduated from middle school Wednesday evening, June 12th, in California. Phil’s run at the US Open started the morning of June 13th, at Merion Country Club outside of Philadelphia.  Phil arranged his schedule so that he could practice a few days at Merion, fly home for several days, and then return via his private jet late Wednesday evening to meet his US Open first round tee time on Thursday. The upshot of this? One commentator said, “It’s Phil’s plane. I’m sure he got some sleep. Good for him.” In other words, business as usual. By the way, Mickelson shot a 67 upon his return to Merion, 3 under par, to lead after the first round of the US Open.

What’s your stance? Did you take time for the birth of your child? Do you feel we now ‘over-celebrate’ athletes for doing the right thing, Dadwise? Is there an instance where team/sport/event might over-shadow the needs of a Dad to be there for the first days or weeks of his child’s life?

 

Comments

The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/

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Comments

  1. I find this an intriguing piece, especially in that it never occurred to me to think of paternal leave for professional athletes. My gut reaction, subject to readjustment, is that having the conversation serves a purpose, and so it’s worth making mention. As I see it, before I was a dad, issues like this were utterly incomprehensible to me — at least in the way that I comprehend them now. Surely I could read old stories about this kind of thing, but it’s helpful to have fresh ones to connect the ideas to *right now*. So i say, keep applauding; not everyone hears every clap.

    • David Stanley says:

      Brian, I agree. High profile Dads acting like Dads can only have a positive effect on Dadism as a whole. Like it or not, society is influenced by people with a high media profile, yes? Until “Dads being Dads” is a societal norm, we need to “keep applauding.”

  2. John Kowalski says:

    I don’t have the luxury of a multi-million dollar contract. When my twins were born not one person I worked with could be bothered so I went home, changed clothes, and went to work. Life for a celebrity rarely parallels life for the rest of us. The only area that I think it should is parenthood. Some celebs treat their kids like accessories, like a teacup poodle in a handbag. I don’t know anything about Nick Swisher, but if he spends time with his kid(s) and doesn’t have a team of nannies, tutors, and maids raising them then more power to him! I don’t think it’s worthy of a trophy, but enough “regular” parents shirk these duties that any who don’t, regardless of fame, deserve kudos.

    • David Stanley says:

      I like the analogy “treat their kids like accessories, like a teacup poodle in a handbag.”. That is exactly how many celebs seem to treat their kids. Our view may be skewed, because the celebs who lead ‘normal’ lives aren’t on our radar, but a good assessment-too many ‘regular’ parents shirk their jobs.

  3. I’m a stay-at-home dad, and I’ve discovered in my four years being a fulltime caregiver for my children that the society’s standards for fathers are very low. I get asked constantly if I’m “babysitting” while out with my kids, or am I “giving mom a day off?” When people are positive, it still comes with a whiff of condescension: “You’re pulling dad duty today?” as though it were on the same level as cleaning out a latrine in the army. So applauding an athlete for taking them time to be a father is just one more sign of how little we expect of fathers. If you don’t abandon your children, you get applauded in this country.

    I wrote about this on my personal blog when I explained that these are the same reasons I don’t like Father’s Day. (http://www.almostcoherentparent.com/why-i-hate-fathers-day/)

    • David Stanley says:

      It is a little odd that on the day we celebrate being Dads, the media would have us believe that NOT being a Dad for a while is what we want. I had to call a friend out not long ago. He was complaining about “babysitting.” I said, “Pal, they’re your kids.” He looked at me like I was a Knight who said Ni. When that attitude is gone, then our work is done.

  4. happiestdaddy says:

    I only know one way to parent and that is to be hands-on, in the mix, day in and day out. Neither I nor most of the dads I know expect a reward for that; it is part of the job of parenthood. I did take several weeks off when both my children were born and I would have taken more if I had the opportunity. Hopefully there will be a day when fathers playing active, invested roles in their children’s lives is the norm rather than the exception.

    As for athletes, the demands and pressure they face is enormous. Certainly a healthy contract eases their burden but, at heart, they are people facing many of the same parenting conundrums that we do. Kudos to them if they are able to step away from their “jobs” to spend time at home where the most important things are.

    • David Stanley says:

      When my son was little, all I know is that the whole thing was amazing and I would be a part of it, whatever it took. My wife and I made it happen. The outside pressures on these star players is hard to imagine. Truly, their lives are not their own. But that’s another piece.

  5. JoeB says:

    I’ve heard a couple things in the comments… One is to keep applauding because not everyone hears every clap. The other is that there is a slippery slope for bringing attention to celebrities for doing the minimal expectations of parenthood.

    To me, taking 3 days from work is minimal effort. I did that without paternal leave, I did that while missing a grad-level course, and without the salary (any salary at all) to rely on for a cushion. So, I think we should applaud them and bring attention to dads that are doing good, but I don’t think they can be a role model for doing so little… or is that just what we are all expected to do?

This is what I think...

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