Sometimes, society has the attention span of a moth.
We’re so devoted to knocking each other down, we seem to move the goal posts for what “doing the right thing” means so that no matter what people do, we can still find room to criticize.
Witness the story of “Peter” (not his real name), profiled in a story in The Globe and Mail, which reveals that according to a study, men are overwhelmingly exposed to harassment about “not being man enough” if they take paternity leave from work to spend with their children. Similarly, women face a rough time if they don’t have children.
When we’re putting our best faces forward, we decry gender stereotyping; but it would seem that we’re so desperate to still be able to express that side of ourselves that we simply find other outlets for it.
It would seem, when you consume enough media, that our society places a high premium on fatherhood. People will stake their political careers on the importance of a child having a mother and a father. Presidents and Prime Ministers give speeches encouraging men to be better fathers. People flock to see movies like The Pursuit of Happyness that put truly great Dads in the limelight.
But dig a little deeper, and society reveals how it really feels: Scientists trumpet major accomplishments like growing sperm from stem cells, a process which renders the father as irrelevant. State and provincial Governments have entire branches which claim to be looking out for stronger families, but in reality have become little more than vicious anti-male collection agencies. And even major sports leagues, who pretend they care about setting a good example for our nation’s youth, minimize fatherhood to merely a promotional day to help sell tickets.
Take Major League Baseball, for example, the only major professional sports league to even have paternity leave: As of 2011, players can miss up to three days to attend the birth of their child. This season, on average, two to three players a week go on paternity leave, including Toronto Blue Jays players Aaron Loup and Munenori Kawasaki, who both went on the “paternity leave list” in the second half of August.
Honourable thing, right? Not if you ask Richie Whitt, columnist for the Dallas Observer. On April 18, 2011, just five games into baseball’s 162-game season, Whitt took issue with Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis becoming the first MLB player to take paternity leave, writing “Colby Lewis is scheduled to start after missing his last regular turn in the rotation because – I’m not making this up – his wife, Jenny, was giving birth in California. To the couple’s second child. […] It’s just, I dunno, weird. Wrong even.”
Earlier this year, Miami Heat superstar Chris Bosh set the NBA – and the internet – on fire when he flew home to Miami to attend the birth of his son, potentially making him unavailable to start Game 3 of the NBA playoffs. Judging from the jokes and the abuse that erupted online, basketball is far more important than being a good human. So apparently there are still plenty of knuckle-draggers who believe that Dad’s participation in the birth process are pretty much limited to conception, and that from that point forward, it’s Mom’s problem. That would explain why the National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League don’t have paternity provisions in their collective bargaining agreements. And it would explain this new study that reveals men and women take a great deal of heat when they step outside of Victorian-era stereotypes. After all, it wasn’t until just after World War II that men even started showing up in the delivery rooms; in fact, most hospitals didn’t even allow it.
For me, it’s simple: I think we need to decide whether we value fathers or not. If we do, then let’s start actually placing value on them. Let’s start treating the very concept of fatherhood with at least a fraction of the reverence that we give to motherhood. Maybe when society stops treating men like sperm donors, society will stop teaching our young men to act like sperm donors.
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