Three Days Off Isn't "Paternity Leave"

What Women Really Think
April 11 2014 3:08 PM

Three Days Off Isn't "Paternity Leave"

483941529-daniel-murphy-of-the-new-york-mets-is-congratulated-by
Daniel Murphy returns from his leave.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Last week, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took three days off the baseball diamond to be with his wife, Victoria, as she delivered their newborn son, Noah. Murphy’s absence prompted some macho posturing from sports radio hosts Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa, who asked why baseball wives can't just schedule their cesarean sections in the off-season to keep their birthing from interfering with the game. But that criticism was quickly quashed by the vocal support from the likes of Mets manager Terry Collins and NFL linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. Esiason swiftly apologized for his remarks, and we were all reminded that the MLB has allowed players to take three-day leaves since 2011. As my colleague Jessica Grose wrote, the media tempest proved that paternity leave is no longer a controversial issue in America, even for men working in a (literally) masculine field.

That’s all great, but … three days? We’re fighting for three days? It’s sad that we’re patting ourselves on the back for finally beginning to allow men to leave work for the time it takes to get over a stomach bug. On Thursday, Deadspin’s Drew Magary upped the ante by encouraging new fathers to take paternity leave for a full five days. "You should take one full week off from work for paternity leave, and NEVER more than that," he wrote in his post, entitled "Why Paternity Leave Is Important, Even Though You'll Hate It." He continues: "By that last day, you'll be dying to get out of the house, and your wife will have finally regained enough physical strength post-delivery to beat the piss out of you and chase you out the door."

Advertisement

This truncated version of paternity leave gives dads two jobs: Assert your nominal role as the child’s father (remember to take some photos for posterity), and make sure the baby doesn’t die if his mother can’t physically get out of bed. Paternity leave is an "important time for bonding between you and your wife and your little bundle of joy," Magary allowed. But after he’s made the appearance, dad is basically useless. "Every new dad strains to be really useful during paternity leave," he wrote. "When a child is born, the father instantly becomes the unwelcome intern begging for meaningful duties. Giving that intern shit to do is more work than not having him around at all, and the average new father feels that in his bones. Sometimes you even grow to resent it."

Encouraging dads to make this symbolic parenting gesture constitutes progress, I suppose. In the 1950s, it was rare for fathers to even head to the hospital to attend the births of their children, but according to University of Leeds research fellow Dr. Laura King, the numbers had totally flipped by the late 1970s. But the modern fight to secure paternity leave—whether through legislation or company policy—is about much more than allowing dads to help out their hobbled wives for a few days. Paternity leave allows parents to better handle the costs of child care after their babies are born; it gives mothers the opportunity to return to work (an easy fix to Magary’s concern that men on paternity leave end up "smothering" their wives); and perhaps most importantly, it establishes a precedent for the father’s serious participation in childrearing for the rest of the kid’s life.

After the New York Times began offering six weeks paid leave for all new parents, Times social media editor Michael Roston elected to take his leave four months after his daughter’s birth in order to pick up for his wife, who was returning to work. When Roston asked Times readers for advice on how to manage his leave, one mother recounted what she told her own husband: "Early on, I announced I was not his supervisor, he knew as much about taking care of a baby as I did, and I wasn’t going to second-guess him … Simply answering my husband’s questions with 'I don’t know,' when I didn’t, freed him to experiment, problem-solve and be a parent, not a baby sitter, but in order to do that I had to give up that innate belief I had about how mothers should be the experts on their babies—not easy." (This week, Roston called in to Slate’s Mom and Dad Are Fighting podcast to check in on how the experiment is going.) This more serious approach to paternity leave ensures that men won’t lose their jobs for taking care of their kids, that women will be less likely to be placed on the "mommy track" for the remainder of their careers, and that kids will have the opportunity to actually benefit from all of the dedicated adults in their lives beyond the obligatory daddy photo shoots. Magary claims that a week of leave is enough for men, because they will totally "hate" it anyway. That’s another hidden benefit of paternity leave—it helps men get a better idea of what procreation really requires of women.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.