Last year, a survey by Deloitte found that half of men in the U.S. are still afraid to take paternity leave because they think it will be perceived as a lack of commitment to the job. Boston radio host Michael Felger confirmed that perception last week when he tore into coworker, CBS Boston sportswriter Michael Hurley, on his show The Sports Hub by calling him “soft” for taking two weeks off to spend time with his newborn, the New York Post reported.
Felger starts out by quite proudly reminding listeners that he’s always gone on record as retrograde and anti-paternity leave for men, especially athletes. “[Red Sox pitcher] Eddie Rodriguez has a baby on Sunday and misses a start on Tuesday night,” Felger rants. “In Major League Baseball, the paternity leaves go from three to seven days, to a max of seven days. These guys work six months out of the year, and they can take a week so they can stay home and tickle the baby? I just find it insane. It’s one of my core things.”
Then Felger starts to tear into Hurley, who he says is taking six weeks of leave, wondering why Hurley “can’t take a few minutes away from the kid to come in and write a whiny Deflategate article.”
In true sports-talk confrontational fashion, Hurley calls into the show to defend himself. “Felger, what the hell is wrong with you?” he begins. “What went wrong in your life? This is what the etiquette is when your coworker has a baby: How’s the mother doing? How’s the baby doing? Oh that’s nice. That’s about as much as you’re allowed to weigh in on when someone else has a child.”
Felger concedes only that it’s okay for men to stay home with a baby when there’s a medical condition. That’s when Hurley goes for the jugular. “This is what life is like for people who don’t summer in Nantucket,” he says. “We have to figure it out.”
Felger replies: “You want to know why I summer in Nantucket? Because I work my ass off, and when my wife had a baby, I went into work two days later because my work is important to me. … You’re serious? You want a tissue? I didn’t spend two weeks going, ‘Goo-goo gaga.’”
When Hurley explains that he had to clean poop off the wall from a 2-year-old while his wife cared for the newborn, Felger doubles down. “I think you’re kind of soft, and this is proving it. So you’re the only guy that’s gotta clean up poop from a 2-year-old?”
Felger tries to act like he’s joking, but Hurley isn’t convinced: “Believe it or not, in the modern era a lot of dads actually do parenting and it’s a wonderful thing. If that’s not on your list of what men can do, then I’m sorry for you that you’re not joining us in the 21st century. But it’s a wonderful time.”
Yes and no.
According to Labor Department data, less than one in three men will take more than 10 days of leave, a majority of men clearly worried that to do so is a career killer. Meanwhile, men typically benefit by a 6 percent increase in salary per child they have — a salary bump tied into notions that those men are now providers who have more mouths to feed, not softies cutting back on hours at the office to spend time at home.
Obviously, blowhards like Felger fuel the perception that this is what we really think of dads who take time off. So even though some 69 percent of us believe that men should have paid leave, too, we still have a culture that discourages it indirectly or otherwise. Last year, MEL spoke to men who’d just had kids and even had paternity leave written in their benefits, but still struggled to take the time for fear of the perception that they’d miss critical opportunities at work. Nor is it helpful when lower pay and missed promotions for men who do take leave have been documented.
Despite it all, though, the number of men taking leave is rising — only 5,800 men per month took leave in 1994, compared with 22,000 a month in 2015. What’s more, that same data found that men are more likely to be paid to do so — 66 percent of those men were compensated during leave compared to 47 percent of women.
So in the end, Felger may have a big platform to shout about what real men do and don’t do, but he doesn’t have much company. Only 15 percent of Americans think men shouldn’t get any paternity leave at all, and it’s no surprise that the majority of them are old men. (Felger is 47.) That means people who think ditching out on family time in those critical first weeks of life are quite literally the minority, which is probably why they’re still yelling so loudly about it in the first place.