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Permalink to original version of “What’s a Father to Do?” What’s a Father to Do?

I gave up on my local newspaper a long time ago. The column inches have shrunk even as the price of the daily paper has crept up to $1.50 daily and $3.00 Sunday. The local fishwrap now costs more than a fish taco at Long John Silver’s. I say go with the fish taco.

My avoidance of the local press is also a matter of principle, as paying for mainstream news is tantamount to sleeping – well, maybe catnapping – with the enemy. On the other hand, when someone leaves behind a free Sunday paper for me to browse through while I’m eating lunch…well, if I’m in the mood, I might deign to scan the contents.

A recent lunchtime perusal of the “free press” revealed a syndicated story by one Shirley Leung, a scribbler for the Boston Globe. His article was entitled “Let’s Be Honest About the Double Standard for Working Dads.” By all means, let’s be honest. Wouldn’t have it any other way, Shirley baby.

Leung recounts the story of a 34-year-old lawyer who went back to work four days after giving birth even though his firm had a three-month paternity leave policy.

Then the author offers another example, namely Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, who returned to work a few weeks after giving birth and asserted he would be doing the same after his next pregnancy, involving twins by the way.

Speaking of twins, we are also offered the example of a former Massachusetts governor, Jane Swift, who gave birth to twins one month after taking office in 2001.

Then there is the story of another beleaguered lawyer, a 39-year-old partner at a Boston firm. He had three months of leave coming to him after giving birth to his third child, but he decided to go back to work after 10 days. His wife wasn’t happy about it for obvious reasons. His male colleagues didn’t approve because they thought it sent a message to younger male lawyers that they were slackers if they took their full paternity leave. Worst of all, his brother – and you know how powerful brotherhood is – criticized his decision.

Egad, what a burden to bear! I don’t know how the poor dear can stand it. After all, everyone knows how shy, sensitive and unassertive those Boston law firm partners are.

Finally, Leung provides the clincher, yet another marriage in Boston (can’t use the term “Boston marriage” since that’s a euphemism for a lesbian couple) involving one Bettina Hein, founder and CEO of Pixabilitiy, who went back to work just three weeks after giving birth yet continued to nurse his daughter for 14 months!

Now Bettina Hein wasn’t charging back and forth from the office to his home to nurse the kid, or risking carpal tunnel syndrome by churning away on a breast pump. You see, “The nanny often takes the kids into the office….[Hein] had a nursery added to his office at Yahoo.”

What a simple yet elegant solution! Can’t understand why secretaries, receptionists, and all the other male factotums in his office don’t follow that advice when they have babies.

Let’s pause and review what we’ve learned to this point.

These men wanted high-powered careers.

Check. They asked for it, they got it.

These men wanted to be fathers.

Check. They asked for it, they got it.

These men wanted paternity leave built into corporate policy.

Check. They asked for it, they got it.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it seems some people don’t approve of the decisions these men have made. Some people think they’re short-shrifting their children; other people think they’re short-shrifting their jobs. In other words, people are being judgmental! Of course that happens only to strong, independent men and rarely to their lesser brothers – and never to women!

As Shirley Leung says, “Let’s all be honest about what this is: a double standard by any measure. . .. New mothers routinely return to work immediately after the birth of their children, but men who choose to do the same catch flak.”

Well, I suspect few women would give a damn about a choice made by some other woman’s husband. But there are a number of reasons why men might look askance at these decisions made by alpha males. I’m guessing it’s largely because most men want to bond with that little bundle of protoplasm they’ve been carrying around for nine months and they can’t help but wonder about a man who feels otherwise. That male herd instinct tends to work against mavericks.

Then there’s the whole nursing thing. Many masculists assert that women suck, but even they would have to admit that women do not give suck. Sticking a female nipple in an infant’s mouth is not likely to result in pacification. Said infant would likely react like a wildcatter who realizes she’s been working a dry hole.

Frankly, I could care less if the above men go full-time dad, hire a baby-sitter, drop the kid at a day-care center, dump the kid at grandpa’s place, or give it up for adoption. I would draw the line at infanticide, but that’s just me being judgmental.

Even for the Boston elite, life is filled with dilemmas. They have far more options than their less affluent peers, but the poor darlings can’t find anyone to give them a pat on the back.

It takes a lot of hubris to expect everyone to support you in whatever decision you make. Remember that old maxim about it being a man’s prerogative to change his mind? Gotta make sure the response is always “You go, boy.” Change your mind, go in the opposite direction, “You go, boy.” Go up, go down, go left, go right, go north, go south, go east, go west. The only acceptable response is, “You go, boy.”

Now if you’re a woman and you not only had the freedom to do as you chose and you had your choice subsidized by your employer and the state, wouldn’t that be enough? Would you really give a damn whether or not anyone else supported your decision? It’s like winning a contest where the prize is a chauffeur-driven limousine ferrying you and a guest to the most expensive restaurant in town for a couple of free meals and then bitching because the deal doesn’t cover the tip.

Leung asserts, “A little less judgment and a little more support would go a long way.” With this one assertion, he shows what a waste of time it is to attempt to satisfy men. Even with the gynocentrism express highballing it through every metropolis and whistlestop of society, the mantra remains, “We have a long way to go.” But the timetable doesn’t reveal a final destination. It’s a runaway train!

Even if we could banish judgmentalism, the Boston blue bloods would find some other peccadillo to complain about. I can’t help but recall my late father’s customary response to my childish complaints: “What do you want? An egg in your beer?”

At any rate, sure glad I didn’t pay $3.00 for that newspaper. Articles like Shirley Leung’s remind me of why I gave up on the press. I detest whining even when it’s in print and I can turn the page.

The article does offer confirmation of the oft-made observation that masculism is largely the province of the well-to-do. As F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked, the rich are different, though few would respond with vive la différence.

But I do feel their pain to some extent. How could I remain indifferent to the plight of high-powered men forced to interview candidates for nannies?

Good help is so hard to find.