The Marginalization of Dad

We hear all the time “how far we’ve come as a society” on various topics. Whether it’s battling all forms of discrimination, marriage equality, recognition of individual civil rights, and even raising children, we hear how great we’re doing as a society and how proud we should be of all the progress we’ve achieved over the years. But I can’t help but feel that the more and more I hear how much progress we’ve made, I ask myself, “Have we really come so far? Have we really made progress, or are we just masking the poor behavior in new ways?”

Maybe one of the reasons I have a hard time really buying to the idea that we’ve come a long way is because there is still so much of the “old way of thinking” still running around. As I have navigated the scary waters of parenthood the last 2 years and some change, I find that I still hear/see a great deal of judgment and advice (which is frankly unsolicited the majority of the time) from those who came before me into parenthood. Where one would think that those who have traveled these waters before the rest of us would want to encourage new parents to find our own way, lifting us up with encouraging statements like, “don’t worry, you’re doing the right thing for your little one,” rooting us on and offering the small nuggets of wisdom to ease our worry in those moments of uncertainty, instead, I have seen more than a fair share of the opposite; people judging each other on the way they are raising their kids, and outright labeling each other bad parents. It makes me sad.

Today I read a story that showed that even those first beautiful moments after giving birth is not off-limits from judgment, and is instead seen as fair game for ridicule. I present you the story of Daniel Murphy. Daniel and his wife just gave birth to their child, a healthy baby boy named Noah, on Monday March 31, 2014. While this should be a time of joy and peace for the Murphy family, Daniel is catching public scrutiny for taking 3 days of paternity leave to be with his wife and newborn son. Why public scrutiny you might ask yourself? Well, Daniel Murphy is the starting 2nd basemen for the New York Mets, and his main detractors are no other than the well-adjusted, beautiful members of the New York media. Well, mainly one member of the media, radio personality Mike Francesa of the YES network.

Mr. Francesa took issue with Daniel leaving his team on opening day when he got word that his wife had gone into labor down in Florida. Francesa spent a full 20 minutes on his radio show on Tuesday criticizing Murphy for wanting to be with his wife when she gave birth to their child, calling paternity leave a “scam and a half.” Francesa didn’t stop there, he also went on to scold his fellow male coworkers at YES for using their company-granted 10-day paternity leave, accusing them of scamming the system and doing nothing but taking pictures for those 10 days. Francesca, in his infinite wisdom questioned,

“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”

Francesa wasn’t happy with simply questioning why Mr. Murphy needed to be there during the initial hours post-birth, he had to really bring it home. So he went on to completely minimize the role Daniel should be filling in his new son’s life by saying, “You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse.”

I really wish I could say that Francesa was the only talking head that had a case of foot-in-mouth disease on this topic, but I would be lying to you. Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason (formerly of the Jets and Bengals) jumped on the Meathead-Men wagon with Francesa by saying on his radio show, “You get your ass back to your team and you play baseball … there’s nothing you can do, you’re not breastfeeding the kid.” And if that wasn’t enough to cement his place in the Hall of Fame of Husbands, Esiason added the gem of all statements saying that if it were him, he would have told his wife to have a Caesarean section before the season to avoid any conflict with opening day, and that baseball is what makes the Murphy family their money, and should always take priority, even over childbirth. Husband of the Year right there folks.

To quote a great sports figure Vince Lombardi, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON OUT HERE???” Seriously men, is this really where we are in 2014? Is this really the image we are supposed to be presenting for ourselves? I mean in this day and age where massive conservatives (who both Francesa and Esiason have supported) throw around the term “family values” like they’re asking for a glass of water, where does the idea of a husband saying, “Sorry wife, I know you’re giving birth to our child, but I have to go play baseball, because that’s more important” fit into the conversation?

While I would love to sit here and stoke the flames of anger towards the ignorant male voices on this topic, they aren’t the only ones pushing forward the idea that dads are the lesser option, or at least the less important option, in the early childhood years. Society, as a whole, is still literally *buying* into the marginalization of fathers . Hear me out.

Just back in 2012, Huggies – the major diaper brand Huggies – put out an ad for their new leak-resistant diapers. They said their diapers and wipes were so good that they could put them to the ultimate test, being alone with dad. They deemed the commercial as The Dad Test. The commercial went on to show snapshot moments of several men and their kids while staying in one house, without moms around, for 5 days. Oh no, how will these children ever survive?!?

Ok, first off…..the imagery and (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here) the story they were trying to convey is great. Watching video of the time spent between little ones and their fathers is awesome. But to achieve that goal by clearly portraying dads, as a whole, as some kind of Cro-Magnon knuckle-dragging man who just looks at his kids and grunts, is wrong.

And it’s not just Huggies who depicts fathers this way. I see it in advertising all the time. One common theme is that if mom is not around and dad is in charge, life is nothing but chaos and disorder, and it offends me every time I see it. Companies like Huggies call this insulting scenario the Dad test and frame in a way of, “Let’s see how these bumbling idiots survive without mom around. However will he make it?” Yet, when companies say something is “Mom-Tested” it’s framed in a way that the product has lived up to enormous expectations, and if it passes, it’s great. Just look at the ad slogan for Kix cereal, “Kid tested, Mother approved.” Where is the product that is kid tested, and Dad approved? I’ve yet to see it.

What this all boils down is companies feed off stereotypes in order to sell products, and we as consumers endorse those stereotypes when we buy products from these companies. Some may think this is an overly-sensitive point of view to have, but I would ask how they would react if the situation was reversed for any other product. What if the stereotype was reversed and labeled moms in the same helpless light as Huggies did with dads?

For example, there is an unfounded and completely offensive stereotype that women are worse drivers than men. So, what if a car company created an ad campaign and used the same parameters as Huggies, and conducted something called the “Women Driver Test” where they let female drivers keep a car for 5 days, and we see how well the car stood up while in their possession. Are you kidding me; there would be an instant public outcry for a boycott, and those ad executives would be brought to task for gender discrimination. So where is the outcry for dads? Why is it ok for corporate America to continue to play on the old-world thinking that dads are less capable than moms, and therefore less required to be around?

We say we’ve come a long way. We say families are changing and evolving. I say it’s time we stop just talking the talk, and actually start walking the walk. Personally, not just as a dad, but as a man, I feel it’s important to be a constant part of my son’s life, now and forever. I have been involved in every aspect of my son’s life (feedings, changing diapers, playing, rocking to sleep, teaching, discipline etc.), and those are not just moments that happened, they are also memories I get to have for the rest of my life, knowing I didn’t miss a single moment.

Much of the ignorance that was spewed by Mike Francesa, Boomer Easiason and others, as well as the creation of ad campaigns like the Huggies Dad Test, get brushed off by a copout excuse of old world thinking. People like Francesa justify their comments by saying things like, “this is how it was back in my day.” Well, I have news for you sir, this is clearly not *your day* anymore. While I realize, or at least would like to hope, the mindset of people like Francesa and Easiason are the minority, it’s the fact that this close-minded old world thinking is still preached that bothers me. While it’s fading away with the rest of the other the discriminatory thinking that has plagued social issues, all it takes is for one young person to hear those kinds of comments and when they latch onto them, it allows the heartbeat of misguided thought to keep pumping.

In order for us as a society to truly show we have made progress, we have to leave this old world thinking behind. The idea of this macho culture where a man goes out works all day while the woman stays home and tends to the kids, and the man is not to be involved or bothered is ancient and archaic. Instead of criticizing Daniel Murphy or any other man who takes time to be with his newborn child, maybe instead we should congratulate him and aspire to be more like them. I mean, aren’t there worse things in this world than supportive and involved fathers? I think so.