Our country needs to support parents supporting their families

Lawmakers should mandate parental leave nationwide.

Trent M. Kays

New York Mets player Daniel Murphy recently took two days of paternity leave to support his wife during childbirth. Murphy missed two games in order to witness the birth of his first child, and he said he doesn’t regret his decision at all. However, plenty of people regret Murphy’s decision, and sports radio seemed to explode in righteous indignation over his choice.

I’ve made no secret that I’m not really a fan of professional sports. My dislike of sports stems from several factors: My parents forced me to participate in sports as a child, professional sports seem to be a hive of abusers and we often treat professional athletes like gods while they constantly fall short. Certainly, all of these issues are generalizations based on my experience, and, as such, I know that many people in professional sports are good and honorable. Indeed, it seems like the fans are more of a problem at times than the athletes or the leagues.

Radio personalities perturbed with Murphy’s paternity leave epitomize my disdain for sports and sports fans. Speaking of Murphy, WFAN host Mike Francesa 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?” If we take Murphy’s actions as an answer, then yes. It’s foolhardy and ridiculous to place a sport — something meant to be fun — above the birth of a child.

Francesa turned a baseball game into a guilt trip. Perhaps most egregious is what this could mean for paternity leave. Francesa’s attitude reveals a lot about not just him but others in our society as well.

It’s no secret — sports are moneymakers. People love sports because they allow us to escape the humdrum of our pedestrian lives. As a placeholder for other activities, sports are a fitting alternate reality. However, it can’t completely replace the effusive plainness of our existence. In essence, you need to decide if the birth of a child is more or less important than two baseball games. Not a season of games — just two.

Francesa apologized for his commentary, but that doesn’t change the overall attitude of the situation. To many, birth is women’s work. Of course, men don’t have quite the same experience of childbirth as women, but the idea that a husband or partner should miss the birth of their child because they can just pay for a nurse is disgusting.

Parents deserve leave to attend to the birth and beginning of their children’s lives. Otherwise, what’s the point in ensuring a future? We should just give up.

It is true, of course, that Murphy can afford the type of care that few can, but that is far from the point. We can’t flippantly dismiss the idea of watching your wife and new child sleep in the hospital bedroom. Why can’t a husband just sit and watch his wife sleep after childbirth, or ensure she is comfortable, or be there for her physically and emotionally?

Any type of parental leave is dismal in the United States. There’s no law for paid parental leave in the country, which puts us into the same category as Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. The fact that America doesn’t have even mandated paid maternity leave is atrocious. The same goes for paternity leave.

This is tremendously disheartening, and the attitudes regarding Murphy’s two-day, unpaid paternity leave encourages only dread. Regardless of his profession, the response for paternity leave should have been pleasant and supportive. The Mets allowed for a third day of leave, and I’m surprised Murphy didn’t take it.

Irksome doesn’t begin to describe the situation of parental leave in the U.S., and Francesa’s attitude doesn’t help. It’s attitudes like his that continue to push back any bits of progress. It should be the law. If you or your partner has a child, then you should get paid parental leave. The more we allow people to not receive such important leave, the more we continue to suggest that childbirth is abnormal.

Childbirth isn’t abnormal; it’s essential to the entire existence of humans. So why wouldn’t we support it? The U.S. is the last industrialized nation in the world to not have mandated paid parental leave.  However, as with many things, my pride in my country is tarnished. How can I show the full amount of pride in a country that doesn’t even support its citizens in their time of need?

That’s America. That’s who we are right now, and it’s painful to realize. That full realization is summed up best in Francesa and others’ attitude toward a man taking two days off for his wife and the birth of their child.

One of Francesa’s peers, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, even suggested that Murphy’s wife should’ve gotten a Caesarean section before the season opened so that the pregnancy wouldn’t get in the way of baseball. This is almost unbelievable. I keep waiting for Stephen Colbert to jump up and say this is a skit from the “Colbert Report.” Alas, it is not so. This is really how some people think: Baseball is more important than human life, and we should just get over it.

I don’t care if you love baseball. That’s fine, but your fanatical devotion to a game should never come between a parent and their spouse or child. Humans should always come before sports.