Paternity Leave And 'The Dumbest Sports Controversy Of The Year'

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I recently moved, and while packing came across a pair of old shoeboxes loaded with family photos going back more than a half-century. One of them was a square, faded Instamatic of me with my beloved late grandfather. We're standing in front of an old NBC Satellite truck at Yankee Stadium. It was my first baseball game, and I'm grinning like I don't know how to stop.

Love of baseball's been part of my family for a long time, literally passed down through generations. Grew up all but bleeding pinstripes for the Yankees, had season tickets for the Orioles and more recently, since relocating to the West Coast, the Padres. There's very little I love more than baseball. My two children would be atop that short list.

So I've been particularly interested in the recent dustup between Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and a few loudmouthed sports talk guys -- most specifically Mike Francesa and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason -- following the Major League ballplayer's brief paternal leave of absence to be with his wife during the birth of their first child and for a couple days after.

Thursday's New York Daily News called it "The dumbest sports controversy in recent memory," and few would likely disagree. But workplace strategist and author Cali Williams Yost also thinks it offers the chance to discuss a significant generational conflict in the workplace that has largely been swept under the Diaper Genie.

"What's interesting to me is that this happens to dads every day in the workplace, and the only reason we're paying attention now is because it's affecting sports," says Yost. "In some ways, it's a great thing that this has happened, because it's allowed us to directly challenge the bias that older generation dads carry from their personal experience."

Yost points out that Murphy, who is 29, has grown up in a different world than Francesa, 60, and Esiason, 52.

"The older guys, they probably just hadn't had the choice, they had to go [to work]," says Yost. "And it's this collision of generational beliefs and values that's playing out in the workplace, on a much larger playing field than sports, and is going to hopefully resonate far beyond sports and perhaps cause some Boomer-aged male managers to reconsider their beliefs about paternal leave."

Esiason has since apologized to Murphy and his family.

Yost acknowledged it's MLB policy to permit paternal leave. She noted many modern companies have similar policies but young fathers feel pressured by older managers to cut their leave short or take none at all.

"There could be a policy, but they still run into the belief system of older male managers for whom this was not an option, who have an attitude of 'I didn't get it, so you're not going to get it,' " says Yost. "It can still be difficult for these younger dads to feel they are able to take advantage of the policy."

But, Yost points out, how engaged would Murphy or any employee be in their work knowing their child was being born and they weren't there? And from that moment forward, what sort of attitude does the employee have about their employer? Do they feel valued? Do they feel respected?

"Right now, Daniel Murphy got one of those precious moments you can't replace," Yost asserts. "Because he was allowed to do that, he will give the Mets 125 percent. But if he had been forced to play the game, his heart, his soul, his mind, would not be on the game. He would be there physically, but not really be there.

"If you support people in their work-life moments, they will give you 125 percent back," Yost continues. "If you don't, they will remember. They may not do anything right away, but they will remember."

Murphy rejoined the team Thursday night, and as far as the fans are concerned, they're on the same page with Ms. Yost. Murphy got a nice hand from the crowd as his name was announced, and promptly singled in his first at bat of the season. Unfortunately, his return didn't make the team any better; they were 0-2 with Murphy on paternal leave and they're 0-3 now.