The last time Boomer Esiason was worth a headline was sixteen years ago when, in his last play as a professional football player, he hit Darnay Scott for a 77-yard game-winning touchdown pass against the Ravens. It was a thrilling end to a 7-9 losing season, and then Boomer Esiason was gone, again, for the last time.
Too bad he didn’t stay there.
Daniel Murphy, the second baseman for the New York Mets, took some leave time to be with his wife for the birth of their first child just as this year’s MLB season was beginning. Because this is America, where everything that really sucks gets all the air-time it wants, Murphy’s decision to be with his family at the beginning of the season elicited an avalanche of scorn and derision.
WFAN radio host Mike Francesa led the way with profundities like, “What are you going to do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for three days? You’re a major-league baseball player. You can hire a nurse.”
Sit and look at your wife for three days? Hire a nurse?
The really nifty part of this highly elevated discourse, however, was what former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, who never won anything worthy of note but played just well enough to become a sportscasting talking head, said regarding Daniel Murphy’s decision to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Murphy, according to Boomer, should have required his wife “to have a C-section before the season starts.” So, yeah, Murphy’s wife’s abdomen should be sliced open down to the womb for no medical reason so he could be there to field any hot liners batted his way, because that’s sane.
As it happens, my daughter turned one year old just this past April 1st, making me, again, the greatest April Fool of all time. She was born on Opening Day last year, after 19 hours of labor and a barrage of indescribably tense moments before the deal went down. Her heart rate and blood pressure were being monitored by the devices attached to my wife’s belly, and at one point all of a sudden they plummeted, and the room was immediately filled with doctors and nurses, and they put an oxygen mask on my wife, and the lead doctor told everyone, “Get ready to do a C-section!”
My daughter, prankster that she is, recovered from her deep-dip measurements and was born in blood and screaming pain…and when it was over, when she was out and in the world, howling at the indignity of it all, when I cleaned the blood off of myself and cut the cord, when the doctor handed her to my wife and I saw the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life, which was my two favorite people on the skin of this Earth meeting each other for the first time and falling in love immediately, I realized something.
I had sweated through my clothes. All of my clothes, from my shirt to my jeans to my socks to my sneakers. I looked like I’d just jumped into a lake. I was literally dripping on the floor. Not one whit of my experience compares to what my wife endured, but it wrung me out like an old, dirty sponge all the same.
Because birth is dangerous. My wife gave birth to our daughter in maybe the best hospital in the city of Boston, which means she gave birth in maybe the best hospital in the world…with the best-trained staff, and all the best equipment…and, in the end, all of that counts for nothing when the deal goes down. It mitigates the danger, to be sure, but it does not end it. Birth is dangerous, for the baby and the mother, and all the training and technology there is to be had cannot do anything about anything when the baby is stuck in the birth canal, and pushing isn’t getting it done.
It was awesomely scary, especially when it seemed like it was going wrong. My wife was frightened when they put the oxygen mask on her face, and I had to hold her hands and ignore the frantic beeping of the machines and tell her everything was going to be fine, even though I was so terrified that I was soaking my clothes. Birth is dangerous, friends and neighbors, and it’s something that technology and education can’t fix. Birth, the moment of birth, is where the rubber meets the road, and it works out or it doesn’t. The doctor is Johnny Bench at the moment of truth, just hoping to play catch.
I have a job, just like Daniel Murphy. I am expected to perform, just like Daniel Murphy. My wife gave birth to our daughter in peril, and all I wanted in the world was to be with the both of them when it was happening. Once it was over, I did not “sit and look at my wife for three days.” I comforted my wife, and cradled my daughter, on the first day. On the second day, I snatched a wheelchair and took my wife outside for some fresh air, because the hospital windows didn’t open on the maternity floor and she was going stir-crazy. Half a dozen times, I ran out to get her food, whatever my wife wanted, because she had just broken herself in half to give us a daughter after spending nine months carrying the girl to term. On the third day, I took them home, and cared for them, and did everything that needed doing, because one was just a baby and the other just had a baby, and it was the greatest privilege of my life to be at their beck and call.
The idea that this experience is scorned and demeaned, even in the glory of this 21st century, is disgraceful. Yeah, sure, Boomer Esiason and his radio friends are throwbacks, but gods be good, maybe it’s time to throw them back. Maybe it’s time to throw the whole idea of diminishing what a woman endures when bearing a child, the idea that says the man is separated from that experience, out the damned window.
The birth of my daughter, and the first week of her existence, were the most extraordinary and satisfying and terrifying times of my life. It was not “woman’s work,” as these radio cretins would oh-so-subtly have us believe. It was a man’s work, too. It was our work, my wife and I. I am so glad Daniel Murphy chose to experience and enjoy that work, chose to be there for his wife when the dangerous and frightening work of childbirth was done, and it drives me crazy to know, even in this day and age, that there are still people out there who disdain the idea of active, engaged fatherhood in favor of some idealized macho-man baloney that leaves the woman holding the bag.
It’s a hell of a thing when being there for your wife and child, being there for yourself by being with them, gets you cut to ribbons. The world needs good mothers, but the world damned sure needs good fathers, too. One such plays second base in New York, and left his position to be with his family, and the roof fell on him for it. I pity the people who attacked him for doing the right thing, and I despair for the culture which empowers broadcasted self-destructive nonsense that would try to shame him away from his wife and child.
I hate the Mets, but I’m rooting for Daniel Murphy.
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