Yesterday, Lyle Overbay and his wife welcomed their fifth (!) child into the world. Overbay took paternity leave, paving the way for Elian Herrera to be called up and enjoy the sights and sounds of Pittsburgh for a few days. Overbay’s absence from the team has been met with no drama whatsoever as far as I can tell. Funny, it seems like just a few weeks ago there was a mini-hullabaloo over professional athletes taking paternity leave.
New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy received pretty stiff criticism in certain quarters for taking paternity leave on MLB’s opening day. Notably, erstwhile NFL quarterback and current CBS Sports analyst Boomer Esiason made some very insensitive remarks indeed:
“Quite frankly, I would’ve said, ‘C-section before the season starts. I need to be at opening day. This is what makes our money, this is how we’re going to live our life, this is going to give our child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player.’”
Esiason has since apologized, but the incident (if you can call it that) helpfully shed light on evolving views of paternity leave, both in professional sports and society at large. In spite of individual media members and random, anonymous internet commenters expressing criticism, Murphy’s peers and his manager were supportive. When he returned, Murphy said in no uncertain terms he made the right decision. And good for him.
In Overbay’s case, no one in Brewer Nation has said a discouraging word – but one wonders if that would be the case in different circumstances. Overbay is an underutilized bench player, and the season isn’t even one month old. How would fans feel if this was Kyle Lohse or Matt Garza missing a start in the middle of a pennant race? What if Francisco Rodriguez were to take paternity leave during a late-season series against the goddamn Cardinals? Would it matter if it’s a player’s first child as opposed to his fifth?
What if the Brewers won one of the wild card berths and the play-in game happened to coincide with the birth of Ryan Braun’s first child? I can imagine in those circumstances, plenty of Brewers fans would not be willing to cut a new father-to-be much slack. It’s easy to take a civilized position on paternity leave when nothing’s on the line. I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t feel conflicted if a key player were to miss a wild card game, since it’s a singular event.
None of those questions apply in Overbay’s case, but it’s an interesting thought experiment. Speaking of which, this is a great opportunity to share the one thing I think I know about childbirth. I’m not blessed with children myself, but I’ve talked with one or two parents about the miracle of life, and there is one logistical aspect of the happy event I don’t think gets nearly enough attention – the physical position of the father in the delivery room, and what he’s looking at when the wondrous moment arrives.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that men can be profoundly affected by watching the mothers of their children give birth. For some men, seeing their offspring erupt from their beloved’s lady parts can have unanticipated psychological impact – i.e., the messy reality of procreation may reduce sexual desire. As Meghan O’Rourke wrote in Slate, “for some, the erotic depends on maintaining a distinction between the sexual and the reproductive.”
I’ve no idea what they teach in Lamaze classes these days, but hopefully someone is telling expectant fathers to decide in advance where they want to stand. Some things can’t be unseen, so it’s fair for couples to discuss ahead of time where daddy’s gaze will be directed.
Now, if you’re Overbay and this is your fifth child, there’s no mystery at this point and maybe there’s nothing to lose by getting a good look at ground zero. I just think it’s important for anyone facing a life-changing event like this to talk these things through and go in with eyes wide open – or eyes scrupulously averted, as the case may be.
(Image: Associated Press)