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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 05/05/2011

Is MLB paternity leave okay?

Did Colby Lewis really have to miss his game? Or did he just want to?

The Texas Rangers’ pitcher was the first to take advantage of Major League Baseball’s new paternity leave policy last month. Immediately afterward, a Dallas sports writer mocked him.
Texas Rangers’ Colby Lewis (Matt Slocum - Associated Press)

The Dallas Observer’s Richie Whitt complained that professional players who are paid millions should suck it up and play through the births of their children.

Second, births are not really important for dads to witness, especially second births. Or as Whitt eloquently put it: “If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous.”

Yes, ludicrous. For an entirely different reason.

Fans and officials alike soon lined up to back Lewis. Whitt came across as a crank and a publicity hound looking to create a controversy. Now, at least two other players have taken advantage of the policy, including Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond.

But the episode raises a larger question: Did Lewis have to miss his game? Why, exactly, does a dad have to be present at the beginning of a child’s life?

D.C. psychologist Matt Fleming works with new dads and said they often ask themselves, “As a father, how needed am I, really, in the delivery room? And how needed am I during those initial exhausting, exhilarating and harrowing weeks and months? And how needed am I, and will I be, in general?”

Fleming said the problem for many men is that they get tripped on the word “need.”

In an e-mail, he wrote that the bigger question should be: “How much do we WANT to be there for our baby, our toddler son, our teenage daughter, our wives? To focus on the need can be used as an excuse to not be there if there is no real need.”

John Badalament, author of “Modern Dads: How to Stay Connected With Your Kids in a Rapidly Changing World” (New World Library, 2010), speaks frequently to schools and parents and said he encounters fathers with a lot of confusion about their roles. He calls it “the myth of not mattering.”

He said men have to assert themselves in the first days, weeks and months of a child’s life by volunteering as much as they can. “You have to make yourself useful, you have to assert yourself … say, ‘I’ll give the bath,’ or ‘I’ll go get the nipple pads.’ ”

As a mother, I’m all for the nipple-pad-courier approach. But Badalament said the benefit is even greater for the father.

“If guys aren’t there and don’t take a role right away, it begins this cycle of a guy feeling inadequate that can last a long time.”

So, Colby Lewis’s example may not have been in “being there for his wife” or “being there for his baby,” for which many fans praised him. It may have been being there for himself.

Fleming wrote in an e-mail, “It takes more courage to want to be there, to say that out loud and to claim that privilege. To do that for the birth is the easiest part. It is the rest of the time that is more of a challenge, especially the first weeks and months. And, I believe that the more we want to be there, and the more that we show up, the more needed we will be.”

Fleming then signed off: “Daughter has croup...gotta run to the doctor!”

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 05/05/2011

 
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