The Comment of the Day below is really two consecutive comments in the same thread, as Sarah B. argues that fathers are not only justified in leaving their jobs at critical times to be with their wives at childbirth and thereafter for as long as they deem necessary, but that this is the most ethical choice. My note prompting her response involved the case of Red Sox star Alex Verdugo, who left the team at a crucial time when the season hung in the balance, and stayed away for four days to be with his girlfriend and their new-born child: there is no indication that he provided anything but companionship and moral support.
(I just learned that he is not married to the mother (above). No, I don’t think that changes the ethics issue, though it raises others.)
I stated that this was a breach of his duty to the team, which he is paid handsomely to respect. I am quite certain that this is the correct ethical position, but my view represents the resolution of an ethics conflict, where two ethical principles oppose one another. I can’t say that how Sarah prioritizes these principles is wrong, only that I would prioritize them differently, and have in analogous situations.
Here is Sarah B’s Comment of the Day on #1 from the post, “Post-Labor Day Ethics Laments, 9/7/21.” I will have a few rebuttal points at the end…
“The priorities are linked, but still need to be ranked and four days is nothing. Heck, if my husband only got four days after the birth of our children, unless his absence from me would literally cause someone to die, I’d give him the choice of his job or his family. If we want men to step up and be good husbands and fathers (which would do amazing things for our society) we need to let them do that. Considering what a woman’s body goes through with the birth of a child and the incredible amount of healing she must do after the fact, four days barely lets a mom get home from the hospital (having had complication-free natural births has led to us getting to go home on day three at my hospital) and set up a good feeding schedule for the first kid (my best kid so far took two weeks before we got the bugs worked out enough for their health and mine). Subsequent kids require so much more because of the need to care for the older children too. The fact of being in high levels of pain for every action and dealing with incredible dizziness for days lead to a new mom being a literal danger to herself and the baby (not to mention any other kids) if left alone. According to my OBs, that condition is totally normal, even expected.
“Due to the danger, new moms are forbidden from lifting their own child or walking with the child in their arms in my hospital. My hospital also asks about the support a mother can expect for at least two weeks post baby before they will even let the child go home with the mother. Sure, a lot of us rely on other family members for that second (or third or fourth week), but the dad has to be there in the beginning if he wants to start himself off on a good foot of proper prioritization of responsibility. Most marriages I have seen where a dad does not give totally of himself for 1-2 weeks after a baby are at best strained. The mother needs support, and who is best able and most desired to give that support, but the father of the baby? If MLB cannot give new fathers a week away at minimum, they need to require that their players are celibate while on contract, so no babies come about. If a multimillion dollar contract is enough to abandon a wife and kid for at a time of great need, it should be enough to abandon sex for. Family is the primary responsibility, and all the more so at the birth of a baby.
“I wouldn’t give this MLB player an Ethics Hero award, but he’s close. He behaved nearly the way we should expect all men to behave. We can’t say we want present fathers and good husbands to combat major societal decline and then complain when a man actually tries to be one.
“I would probably grant your point in the example of the general [in the middle of a battle] (an exception I believe I covered in saying that I would excuse him for someone’s literal death). And of course, generals are usually of an age where they are not expectant fathers. But to say that a father’s presence is moral support and self-indulgence is ignoring a lot. A father’s presence decreases maternal complications and infant mortality by a significant factor. It also decreases maternal mortality, but that amount is smaller.
“I wasn’t joking about how dangerous it is for a mother to be left alone with a new baby, especially in that first week. It may be moral luck that she kills the kid by passing out on the stairs so she can get the food she needs to function, but if that is a real risk (it certainly is in my house) then I don’t see precautions as “self-indulgence”. Depending on what interventions are needed at the birth, the health of the mother, the health of the baby, and a host of other items, the requirements can be higher. It also begins the whole family on the right foot for an involved father. Moral support is actually really important for kids, and kids ARE the future. The family is the building block of society. It is not self-indulgent for a father to put his family above everyone else, as that makes that building block strong. Strong families lead to strong kids, who become strong adults, who make good societies. We can see the opposite in our society today.
“Indeed, is it self-indulgent of a woman to demand help from her husband when she is throwing dozens of dime-sized blood clots (anything under a quarter-half dollar size is normal so she will have to just deal with this), so dizzy she cannot get the child safely from the bassinet without aid, and dealing with a child who screams non-stop two out of every three hours around the clock? This is exactly what he signed up for the instant he dropped his pants, helping his wife with these kinds of normal baby issues. I cannot see the logic that makes it ethical to say a man can abandon a woman he claims to love to deal with this alone while her body is healing from a major endeavor, especially in the beginning when the effects are strongest.
“Even the easiest of births and the calmest of babies require a father’s presence to help his wife. This responsibility overwhelms all of a man’s other responsibilities. Indeed, despite being pretty much a pro-life/anti-abortion/anti-choice (or whatever you want to call me) absolutist, this is one of the, in my opinion, strongest arguments for abortion on demand. Pro-choice advocates claim that men in our society cannot be counted on to help with child rearing when they are most needed. I do not believe that justifies killing the child, but can see their point about men getting to treat us as nothing more than sex toys if they will not take on the responsibility that comes with the sex. The solution, as I see it is not racing each other to the bottom of the barrel as they seem to hold, but forcing ourselves upwards toward a high expectation of virtue.
“Everyone has a life that affects others and everyone makes choices that affect people far away from themselves. I will give an example of my own. A man has a job where he is required to be present at a major project. If he is not present, it could cost the company millions of dollars, and threaten the jobs of hundreds of people. There is no replacement available for him. Right before the project is scheduled to start, the company demands he do something unethical, a betrayal of sorts, regarding one of the people whom he supervises. His choices are to do that unethical thing that harms one of his subordinates, possibly mildly, possibly with lifelong consequences, or quit the company, cost the local economy millions of dollars, and cause lots of harm to all the several hundred people employed by the company and their families. What is the ethical option here?
“Now, if a job is so important to society that a man needs to not be distracted by the needs of fatherhood then it should be expected that he be unmarried and practice celibacy. This is the reasoning behind the priestly celibacy required by the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Another option is to have age requirements that leave child-rearing by the wayside. If Major League Baseball is really that important, then celibacy should be a part of the contract or potentially reversible chemical castration should be required. If a man cannot be allowed under at least FMLA to take time off aid his woman in these problems, then he cannot be allowed to impregnate said woman.
“This was understood at least as early as 19th century feminists/sufferagists who demanded that either men were held to the higher standards biology expected of women, or that voluntary motherhood (periodic or total abstinence in today’s vernacular) was required of husbands, preaching that they often practiced themselves. Either we value fatherhood, or we encourage the breakdown of family. I cannot see a middle ground here.
“As a final note, I’m perfectly OK with him not getting paid for the days he doesn’t work, unless his employment contract says otherwise. Taking sick leave or paid vacation for this is fine, or using FMLA without pay are all options.
I’m back. Here is what I wrote in response to the last half of Sarah’s comment in the thread, along with one addition:
1. The argument that family trumps all when a parent has made a commitment to others and is not a fungible factor in meeting it doesn’t stand scrutiny. If you accept the general as an exception–that’s wise, since leadership might determine the victor in a critical battle that affects millions, nations, and civilizations, then you have to accept a whole lot more. No judge would allow a lawyer to leave mid-trial with a jury because his wife was giving birth. A heart surgeon who abandoned a patient with a serious malady he was prepared to address in an operation few others could perform would be asking for a malpractice suit for himself and his hospital. A lead star actor who ditched a Broadway opening night at the last minute would risk killing the show, the investment of millions, and the livelihood of many people a lot less well-off than he is. All are not just unethical in my view, but unconscionable.
As for the husband’s post-birth role in preventing problems for the mother or the child—I assume you’re not evoking some study that claimed to find the value of the mere presence of the father, even if he just smiles, coos and takes pictures—is a bit of a cheat. The MLB minimum is nearly 600,000 a year, for six months work. But no player making the minimum would be considered irreplaceable. The kind of players I was writing about make a million a year up to 30 million a year. They can and should hire top private nursing help. Nor is it unreasonable to ask a family with a father who knows or even suspects that such a conflict might arise to make plans accordingly—like having a family member ready to provide necessary support.
3. Now, if a job is so important to society that a man needs to not be distracted by the needs of fatherhood then it should be expected that he be unmarried and practice celibacy” is a bad case of moving the goal-posts. I didn’t argue that men don’t need to be “distracted by the needs of fatherhood.” One need of fatherhood is supporting the family. Another is being available as a father as much as possible. An argument could be made that being an MLB player is per se a breach of fatherly duties, since players have to be away from home and children for about half the year. But a baseball wife consents to that when she agrees to marry a baseball player. The key word here is “need.” Men with important responsibilities that could not be transferred have has to miss the births of their children for generations, with no harm to child or mother in the vast majority of cases, whereas the harm to their employers, institutions and organizations had they left would have been substantial and certain. If there was an equal “need” for the father’s presence, I would agree with your priorities.