The closing pitcher for tonight’s baseball playoff game is taking 3 days of paternity leave because of the birth of his daughter this morning. He will miss 2 games as a result.
Given that his wife had no medical issues with the birth, shouldn’t he be out there doing his job the next two nights?
We’re sorry to only get to your question now, although you submitted it closer to October 2019, when Washington National player, Daniel Hudson, took paternity leave at the time of the National League Championship Series. However, the issue has cropped up before and since. This is not surprising when you consider that baseball teams are made up of men, many of an age when they are establishing families. In fact, baseball adopted an official paternity leave policy in 2011. Many players and officials made comments expressing the sentiment that baseball is important but family is more important.
That sounds warm and cuddly but it camouflages reality. These men are able to play professional baseball, not because it is important but because enough people enjoy watching them do so and are willing to pay for that privilege. As you suggested, this is a job. Your local dry cleaner might close for a few days when his wife gives birth but he wouldn’t say, “Dry cleaning is important but family is more important.” The main reason he goes off to work each day is to support his family. If he has concerns that his livelihood might be imperiled if his store closes, then he will not take paternity leave but will stay open. If it came down to being with his wife and new baby for a few days or being able to provide them with a roof over their head and food on the table, there isn’t really a choice as to where his obligation lies. If baseball fans stopped attending games because their team, let’s say, loses the World Series because the star pitcher is off on paternity leave, the players will find themselves out of very lucrative jobs. That calculation should be an internal and unforced decision for the individual store owner or a baseball League to make.
Having a baby isn’t the only time an emotional tug of war occurs. While birth is obviously a unique moment, understanding the intersection of money, marriage and family is a larger topic. One sometimes hears parents piously pronouncing that attending their child’s school or sports event is more important to them than being at work. We do not automatically praise their priority. If their economic situation is such that there are no financial costs to absenting themselves from work, they belong to the rarified ranks of the privileged few. For many parents, being absent in the middle of a workday is just plain irresponsible.
As part of a Biblical understanding of marriage, the husband contractually commits to providing for his wife financially. That often gets overlooked in today’s society. Though it may not sound either romantic or egalitarian, in reality, that remains one of the cornerstones of the relationship. She can support the family; he must support the family.
It doesn’t surprise us at all that as men opt out of financial responsibility and women shoulder career obligations, fewer people are marrying and having children. The percentage of American adults who have never married is now at an all-time historic high. Those that do marry are having smaller families than ever before. Somehow, as family is elevated in theory and political polemic abounds promoting policies of maternity and paternity leave, fewer individuals are signing on to establishing a family in the first place.
Earning a living, of course, does not supersede everything else. The Jewish dry cleaner is obligated to close for Shabbat and various festivals regardless of the cost. In a similar vein, no one can conduct a fraudulent transaction and then claim moral kudos because the money was used to support his family. Earning a living is not more important than family, it is part of having a family.
In general, the Biblical view leans towards what we call ‘ethical capitalism’. In other words, people should be free to make whatever commercial agreements they choose as long as they do not contradict any Biblical or legal laws. Paternity leave is neither a religious obligation nor religiously forbidden. In that sense, it’s a choice best left to the individual employer and employee. We feel great concern at the government getting involved. Fans and customers, of course, have the power of controlling where and when they spend their own money.
On this and so many other issues we do worry about a society focused on individuals obtaining more rights, entitlements and privileges while simultaneously insisting upon fewer obligations and responsibilities. Having a long-term view is essential so that what looks rosy today doesn’t bring a bleak tomorrow.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
Do you think of work as an impediment to the important things in life?