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Why do so many have such a beef with paternity leave?

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
  • Boomer Esiason apologizes for suggesting athlete's wife should have scheduled C-section
  • Esiason, other radio hosts took issue with baseball player taking two days of paternity leave
  • Paternity leave in United States still lags far behind countries in Europe
  • In Sweden, men can take two months paid paternity leave

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Even after Boomer Esiason apologized for what he called his "insensitive" comment about scheduling a C-section before the season started, his suggestion plus critical stances by other radio hosts demonstrate how much paternity leave is still not widely accepted in our society.

In conversations with men across the country, it's clear that while most join many women in expressing outrage at the view that a Major League Baseball game should come before the birth of a child, there were men who felt the player should have gotten back to his job as quickly as possible.

By now, you probably know the particulars: the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the season to attend his son's birth. He didn't do anything he wasn't allowed to do. Major League Baseball permits a player to take up to three days off for paternity leave.

But Esiason, his radio co-host Craig Carton and another WFAN radio host, Mike Francesa, had a very hard time understanding why Murphy would take another day -- and be off the field -- after his son was born.

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"You're a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse," said Francesa on his radio show.

Esiason pulled back completely from his initial comment that if he were in Murphy's shoes, he would have had his wife schedule a C-section before the season started.

"My flippant comment was insensitive," said Esiason on his radio show Friday, a day after intense criticism of his remarks. "I feel terrible for the Murphy family because what should be the greatest time in their life turned out to be somewhat of a firestorm that I personally put them into. And for that, hopefully, they can find forgiveness in their heart."

A father of three, who did not want to be identified, said his biggest beef was not with Esiason but with Francesa's comments that Murphy wasn't needed after his son's birth, or that anything he could have done could have been handled by a hired nurse.

"That is total garbage," said this dad via Facebook. "Whether a man makes minimum wage or the salary of a Major League ball player, his family deserves his undivided attention at the birth of his child. It doesn't matter if he can easily hire someone to handle all the things that need to be done -- there is no substitute for the sense of accomplishment a man can get from having done it himself."

Mike Adamick, a stay-at-home dad in San Francisco, writer and author of "Dad's Book of Awesome Projects," found the comments of Esiason and the other radio hosts "really sad" but believes the fact that the controversy involves a discussion about paternity leave is positive.

"I'd like to think that if there's a silver lining from all this, it's the realization or the confirmation that dads do want to be involved, and that the expectation is really gone away from wandering around the hallways handing out cigars to wanting to be in the birth room and being involved and hands-on from the get-go," said Adamick, who has another book coming out in a few weeks, "Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments."

But not all men think a man's role is being by his wife and his new child's side.

On CNN Living's Facebook page, a man named Michael said he agreed with Esiason regarding scheduling a C-section before the season got underway. "It may seem insensitive but it's a very special situation being a Major League Baseball player. I know in almost every other profession the right thing to do is to strap your boots on and go back to work because that's what the man of the house does.

"Could he not afford to hire a nurse to wait on his wife hand and foot?" he added.

"Real men don't take paternity leave," said a man named Robert on CNN's Facebook page. When pressed by another commenter that it's no longer the 1950s, Robert responded, "I wish it were the '50s. Those were the days when men were men."

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace writes the Esiason controversy shows paternity leave is still not widely accepted in our society.
CNN's Kelly Wallace writes the Esiason controversy shows paternity leave is still not widely accepted in our society.

Said another man on Facebook, "My belief is that it's a generation gap opinion. When (Esiason) had kids, he was back to work the next day."

Indeed, just by looking at the increase in the number of stay-at-home dads in the United States, it's clear our attitudes are shifting, even though not as rapidly as some would hope.

"I think people have really latched onto the idea that no, culturally we've changed, and we want to go in the direction of more involved dads as opposed to backwards of 'Ward Cleaver' checking in from out in the waiting room," said Adamick, who is the primary caregiver for his soon-to-be 8-year-old daughter.

Still, when compared to our European counterparts, we are pretty much in the dark ages as far as paternity leave is concerned. In Sweden, men get a minimum of two months paid paternity leave; in Norway, they can take 10 weeks paid; and in Spain, they get four weeks.

In the United States, there is no mandated paid paternity leave, although some companies do allow men to take 10 days off with pay.

"In my case, I had to use vacation days when my twins were born," said the father of three, who didn't want to be identified.

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"I get that we live in a world where women aren't treated equally to men when it comes to pay, promotions and a slew of other areas, but there are also areas where men's needs are treated as inferior to those of a woman, and becoming a parent is a prime example," he added.

Will we, one day, get to a place where paternity leave is as accepted as maternity leave?

Even paternity leave supporters say that's not likely. "From a cold hard political standpoint, for some reason, we just feel like you take time off and you're a loafer, you're a taker, (a) grabber," said Adamick.

But as more Daniel Murphys come forward and make decisions that they say are best for their families, maybe, just maybe, we'll move closer to the approach of our friends abroad.

Adamick said, "In terms of just being socially good for everybody ... having kids raised in a loving family and to start them from the get-go with two involved parents ... I don't see how that could possibly be bad and I hope that one day we can get there."

Do you think men should be able to take paternity leave -- no matter their profession? Chime in in the comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.

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