How much of a priority is paternity leave?

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?

Thomas P.

Dear Thomas,

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



14 thoughts on “How much of a priority is paternity leave?”

  1. Dear Rabbi and Susan,
    Thank you for yet another wise and thorough answer to this week’s question and answering it in such a way that we can relate it to mainstream life. I particularly liked ” Earning a living is not more important than family, it is part of having a family.”
    God Bless,
    Terry Sterling

  2. Sports are seasonal. Players can sacrifice family time as others do who have to work away from home. It is worse for those in the military overseas during war time. They miss out on the birth and they may never see their child.

    1. Carmine, I was thinking of service members missing the birth of their children as we wrote the answer, but that would have taken the answer off on another track.

  3. Thank you for another wise answer. We as a family have made numerous errors regarding money vs family. Being taught that family comes first, made us chooses situations where it did have a very negative financial and professional impact on my husband’s career. He was a cricket player. We are not looking back but can def see how this false movement has impacted our lives bit we choose to look forward and learn from our mistakes. This answer has just once again put things in perspective. We just emigrated to the other side of the world. Many sacrifices are being made, children are affected. So many choices to make to be able to provide them with a better future AND be there for them when they need us.

    1. That sounds like you have quite a story to share, Marne. We wish you much success in your new home.

  4. I agree that a man must provide for his family, and that means being at work – an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages. However, there are a lot of men who go to the other extreme: never being there for their families because they’re so busy being at work. I’ve seen ads for a certain attorney who prides himself on being available to his clients anywhere, any time. He gives his regular work schedule as roughly 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. His young son advertises his pride that his dad constantly works – on the phone with clients during family vacations and outings, etc. To me, this man is too busy being everything to everybody else that he can’t be an effective father and true provider for his family (except perhaps financially). I wouldn’t want him as my attorney. Somehow, there must be balance between job and family obligations. Prayerful consideration of God’s word and common sense should settle the matter.

    1. Sonia, of course, you are absolutely correct. We tried to say the same with our examples of closing for the holidays and being honest in business. Yet, society is trying to say that there is no difference between mothers and fathers. Balancing family and business is one of those areas where each couple must frequently hold discussions to make sure they are keeping their eyes on the goals they wish to achieve in every area.

  5. “Honey, Boy am I glad your my little girl! HEE Hee! Here’s my pitch, I pitched for you!” I love you darling!”
    Recall a player dedicating his playing to those serving in WWII.

    1. Ed, it would be nice if we could have a discussion on topics like this without ignoring OR playing up the emotional side.

  6. Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin:
    You are correct with the wisdom to back up your answer.

    1. Ruth, we have actually been surprised at the scarcity of comments, so we especially appreciate yours. Did we say something so counter to people’s beliefs? Is there a big sale somewhere and everyone is busy?

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