It’s a topic that stirs debate on a seemingly daily basis: paternity leave in the sports world.
The latest example took place when Boston sports talk radio host, Michael Felger, called out his coworker, Michael Hurley, for taking advantage of the company-sponsored two-week benefit.
For context purposes, Felger has been critical of professional athletes sitting out games to be with their families around the time their children were born. His primary argument is that professionals get paid excessive amounts of money to play specific, scheduled games during the calendar year. Barring any health concerns for mother or child, the players should be available — save for missing a day or two for the actual birth — to play games. Never mind that timing conception is an inexact science at best. And try as we may to plan when our babies are born, babies arrive when they’re ready.
After Felger ranted against Hurley for being on paid leave to be with his family, the new father called in to defend himself and it got ugly in a hurry.
Here’s a brief transcript:
“Felger, what the hell is wrong with you?” Hurley asked. “What went wrong in your life? Then Hurley added, “This is what life is like for people who don’t summer in Nantucket. We have to figure it out. I’m thankful I work for a company that gives me time to take care of my family.
That set Felger off.
“Why do you think I get to summer in Nantucket?!” Felger told Hurley. “Because I work my a** off, Hurley! Because I work my a** off! And when my wife had a baby, I went into work two days later because my work’s important to me.” Felger continued: “You want a tissue?” Felger said. “Why do you think I summer in Nantucket? You think that was handed to me? Ya a**hat!”
Yikes. Name-calling and nonsense aside, here’s why Felger’s Neanderthal take is flat-out wrong: paternity leave isn’t about men taking advantage of a system that allows them to take paid time off. It’s about new fathers being there during one of the most critical times in their family’s life.
It doesn’t matter whether you play sports professionally, cover sports professionally, or are simply an average Joe. Paternity leave is something every man should be entitled to. And as someone who’s been a member of sports media my entire career and has experienced both sides of the paid leave benefit, I can say it makes a huge difference.
When my son was born in October 2013, my employer at the time offered eight weeks paid paternity leave that could be taken any time over the course of our child’s first year. I was beyond thankful for this opportunity. Of course, I take great pride in my work ethic, but this was our first child! I wasn’t going to miss valuable time away from my wife and kid to cover the World Series or football season. Believe it or not, there are more important things in life.
I ended up taking time off over the course of the following milestone periods of our boy’s first year:
- First two weeks: Routines are developed, diapers are changed, errands are run for recovering mommies, and essential bonding time is enjoyed between father and child.
- 4½-month mark: After spending nearly the entire month of February in Russia covering the Sochi Olympics, it was vital to spend quality time with my young family for another two weeks. (Plus, it didn’t hurt to be around for the first attempts at sleep training.)
- 9-month mark: Sleep training is in full swing, crawling is happening, and words are starting to form.
- 1-year mark: You only celebrate your first birthday once! And entertaining out-of-town family for the big event can be exhausting.
Needless to say, I felt so connected to my son and wife because of these memorable times together.
Now, contrast these experiences with the birth of our daughter in August 2016. Having started a new job exactly one week after her birth, it not only would have been wholly inappropriate for me to take paternity leave the way I did the first time around, but as a freelancer it wasn’t even offered.
Remember those errands I ran for my recovering wife in the first couple weeks the first time around? Yeah, that stopped after six days. And who brought our soon-to-be 3-year-old to day care after a week? Yep, you guessed it — my saint of a wife (who delivered naturally and was not nearly fully recovered).
As a result, I didn’t feel nearly the same initial bond with my daughter that I did with my son. Thanks to more time together these days with my baby girl, that has changed. Nevertheless, it’s different without the benefit of paternity leave.
Getting back to the sports debate, if you want to subscribe to the antiquated notion of “the menfolk” getting back to work as soon as possible after babies are born while the women stay home to care for them, do so at your own risk. As far as I’m concerned, that mindset perpetuates outdated family dynamics of clueless dads and stay-at-home moms.
This just in: the vast majority of women work these days. Paternity leave simply allows fathers an opportunity to be away from their jobs for a short period. And after all, isn’t family supposed to come first?