I was first a little puzzled and then miffed at Boomer Esiason the other day, when I heard about his criticizing Daniel Murphy, a Mets player, for missing the first two games of the season in order to be present at the birth of his son. It turned out that Murphy’s wife gave birth by Cesarean section, so not only was their son being born, Murphy’s wife was undergoing major surgery. After I heard more about what Esiason and his work colleagues said on the air, I got, as they say in Thayer, “plumb mad” and extremely curious about the kind of relationship each of those men has with his children.
Esiason’s and his colleagues’ main point was that Murphy’s job was to be on the team and win so he could continue providing for his family. They also proclaimed that men can’t really do anything for the first few days of a baby’s life. How 1950s of them! Our society has come so far in expanding the role of a father that to revert to pigeonholing a man as “breadwinner” is almost insulting. Today’s fathers, because of our rising awareness of the importance of their part in our children’s lives, have the opportunity do much more as parents than most earlier generations’ fathers, and many of them take that opportunity, developing good and lasting relationships with their children.
It is hard to hear Esiason’s remarks, for which he has now apologized, without recalling my own experience as a first-time mother, and how grateful I was that Max was able to be present for all of it, including my own C-section. Medicine has advanced so that those of us who know we will need a C-section may be totally awake for the birth (though the idea of being aware through any surgery is pretty creepy).
I remember Max’s being there and holding my hand while Dr. Azan brought Emily from her warm, comfortable spot into the cold operating room under a bright light that she did not like at all. Max then went with her and Dr. Frederickson to check her out, and then Max brought her to me while I was being stapled back together. He and I both held Emily and looked at her for what seemed like hours, until it was time to take her for her first nap so I could be transferred to a room.
Lest you believe that the entire experience was perfect, I did get a little irritated with Max when, on the day Emily and I came home, he carried Emily up to our lovely apartment over Dr. Lamy’s house, made sure I was comfortable on the sofa, and then said, “Well, I need to get back to work.” As if I knew what to do with this new person who couldn’t even tell me what she wanted!
But though Max didn’t have “paternity leave,” his schedule was flexible enough for him to spend lots of time with Emily from the beginning, getting to know her, her getting to know him, so that then, as now, they have their own relationship outside of our family relationship. She calls him to talk as much as she calls me, and as I never had that kind of closeness with my own father, I admit to being a little envious.
But isn’t that what we want from fathers? We read about how children whose fathers aren’t present are at higher risk of poverty, early use or experimentation with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, dropping out of school, and teen pregnancy, and about how children thrive when they have good relationships with their parents. Those good relationships don’t just happen. They are developed, and they begin at the very beginning.
I am not naïve. I know that business is business, and “sports” is business. But Max will be a lawyer for only his working life, just as Daniel Murphy will be a baseball player for only a limited time. Each will, for the rest of his life, be a father. I think it’s a good thing that they, and other fathers like them, are making that role a priority.