(Article changed on April 11, 2014 at 09:41)
Victoria and Daniel Murphy, proud new parents.
By Bob Gaydos
Witnessing the births of my two sons were moving experiences for me. I was a grab bag of emotions, equipped with a camera. Anxiety, impatience, excitement, irritability, awe, relief, exhilaration and happiness played tag at different times in my head. In the end, gratitude won out.
It still does. I like being a father. I love my two sons and I am proud of them. Witnessing their entrances into the world was, for me, the right way to begin our lifelong relationships. I think being there is important. Sure, their mother did the hard work, but I never felt my presence at their births was pro forma. You know, show up, look concerned, puff your chest out, then go hand out cigars and leave mother and child alone. Old-school fathering.
It's not me.
Daniel Murphy apparently isn't an old-school father either. Murphy plays second base for the New York Mets. He's an average second baseman, but one of the best hitters on the team. Instead of being with the team for Opening Day, Murphy, 29, took three days of paternity leave allowed major league ballplayers to be with his wife, Victoria, when she gave birth to their first child, Noah.
For this, he was assaulted with a flood of criticism from -- not teammates, not fans, not baseball officials -- but by three egomaniacs on WFAN Radio and one on Fox News. They said Murphy should have checked in to see his first child born, then rushed to be back with his team. One day off tops, they said. None of this three-day paternity leave nonsense.
Because, of course, missing a couple of games out of 162 is an act of disloyalty or lack of work ethic. Unmanly even. C'mon, Murph, hire a nanny, they said. Where are your priorities? You should be fielding ground balls, never mind being by your wife's side for the first three days of this exciting new chapter of your lives. This is stupid personified.
For the record, Murphy appears to be doing just fine in the stereotypical, outdated, macho, male-providing-for-the-family role that seems to underlie much of this criticism. He's getting paid $5.7 million this year by the Mets, which means, as one of his critics suggested, he could hire 20 nannies if he wanted to. The thing is, he apparently doesn't want to. He preferred to be at the hospital when his son woke up crying.
"We had our first panic session," Murphy recalls. "It was dark. She tried to change a diaper, couldn't do it. I came in. It was just the three of us, 3 o'clock in the morning, all freaking out. He was the only one screaming. I wanted to."
That's a memory he and his wife will always have and someday share with Noah. Nothing unmanly about it.
But here's what Mike Francesa, the big name in WFAN Radio's lineup of sports personalities, had to say about Murphy's decision: "I don't know why you need three days off, I'm going to be honest. You see the birth and you get back. What do you do in the first couple days? Maybe you take care of the other kids. Well, you gotta have someone to do that if you're a Major League Baseball player. I'm sorry, but you do " Your wife doesn't need your help the first couple days, you know that."
There's more: "One day, I understand. Go see the baby be born and come back. You're a Major League Baseball player, you can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help ... What are you gonna do? Are you gonna sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?"
Well, at least we know what Francesa did when his son was born. Wonder what his wife thought about that.
Boomer Esiason, who also hosts a show on WFAN, went so far as to suggest that Murphy should have told his wife to have a Caesarean section before the season started so he wouldn't have to miss Opening Day. After all, the former pro football quarterback said, baseball pays Murphy well, so he should make baseball his priority. (Note: Victoria Murphy, in fact, gave birth via Caesarean section and Esiason apologized a day later.)
Esiason's partner on the morning radio talk show, Craig Carton, was his usual crass self: "You get your ass back to your team and you play baseball " there's nothing you can do; you're not breastfeeding the kid."
I stopped listening to WFAN's morning show years ago when Carton was teamed with Esiason because I thought Carton was the most misogynistic, immature excuse for a radio sports host I had ever heard. He was insulting, crude, sexist, arrogant and not especially knowledgeable about sports either. This incident only solidifies my opinion and I think he continues to be an embarrassment for WFAN, but maybe his bosses don't care.
Let's not let Fox News host Gregg Jarrett of the hook. Here's what he had to say about Murphy's paternity leave. "He's rich. He could have like 20 nannies taking care of his tired wife, and he's got to take off two days? It's absurd. It's preposterous."
No, Gregg, it's about being a father first, not a baseball player. Talk about priorities. Imagine this scenario: It's Noah's 20th birthday. Mom is recalling that second day in the hospital when, all of a sudden, the infant's temperature started rising. Nurses were rushing around and calling for a doctor. She was trying to stay calm, she says, but was really scared to death. "What about you, Dad?" asks Noah. "I was grounding into a double play in Queens," he replies.
Fortunately, that didn't happen. Instead, Murphy was there to share the first diaper-changing "emergency" with Victoria.
Not everyone thought Murphy did the wrong thing. Mets fans, his manager and teammates all supported Murphy's decision to take the full paternity leave. Major League Baseball, in fact, is among the few employers in the United States that allow paid paternity leave -- a situation that begs changing -- and about 100 ballplayers have reportedly taken advantage of it since their union got it written into their contract three years ago.
It makes sense. Baseball players are undeniably well paid. But they are also away from their families for much of the time for eight months in the year. Half of their games are played away from home. Three days out of a 162-game season is a pittance. And for Murphy to be criticized for missing games is absurd since he played in 161 of the Mets' 162 games last year, often with injuries. He's what they call a "gamer."
(In my case, paternity leave was not available, but I had an understanding boss who let me spend as much time as needed with my sons and their mother. Besides, my work was a 10-minute drive from home; Murphy's son was born in Florida and the Mets were playing in New York. A tough commute.)
Taken aback by the harsh criticism, Murphy described his decision simply: "We felt the best thing for our family was for me to stay." That says it all.
In fact, the Murphys made the best choice possible. When my sons were born, they were handed to me soon after the umbilical cord was cut and tied. In the days that followed, there was a lot of holding, humming and touching. There are scientific studies connecting that early skin-to-skin contact of father and child with the production of oxytocin, a hormone that enhance the bonding process for both.
Other studies show positive psychological benefits for the mother, knowing she is supported at this critical time and, in turn, for the health of the newborn. Even more studies suggest that having a nurturing father/child relationship from birth has positive results on the child's future emotional development as well as the relationship between father and mother.
In sum, science and much of society have for some time abandoned the old-school fathering of Francesa et al in favor of a more involved, more nurturing role for Dad because the whole family benefits from it.
Meanwhile, while Murphy was being criticized for wanting to be with his wife in the first three days of their son's life, other ballplayers who had taken performance enhancing drugs -- cheated -- were being greeted back from their 50-game suspensions. Pro football and basketball players continue to be arrested for assaulting their wives or girlfriends. The New York Jets recently signed quarterback Michael Vick, who served time in prison for running a dog-fighting enterprise.
These are the role models professional sports have offered to today's youth for much too long. Rich, macho, spoiled, selfish, arrogant, self-centered, young men.
Murphy returned to the Mets after three days with his wife and son, was cheered by fans and singled in his first at bat. He'll be able to tell Noah that story some day.
Way to go, Murph.