As the ludicrous Trump-Cruz feud crammed the airwaves, as we gaped at the horrific scenes from Brussels, as we read about President Obama’s visit to Communist Cuba, we likely didn’t notice news that is as historic and life-changing as anything flashing across our flat screens.
Domestic scenes rarely receive more than a passing interest. Small, private moments, even ones that are substantial, don’t remain in the public eye long.
I’m writing, of course, about two athletes who have taken a stand not about their sport or about contentious bargaining with management. No. They’ve broadcast their views on the value they place on family time.
Earlier this month Chicago White Sox’s Adam LaRoche walked away from the second year of a $26 million contract because he was asked to limit his son’s time in the clubhouse, though 14-year-old Drake had hung around with the team for years. So a determined LaRoche said his goodbyes in a tweet, using the hashtag #FamilyFirst, a sentiment teammates, fans and parenting websites supported.
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Weeks earlier Andy Murray had made headlines in another sport but for a similar reason. The winner of two tennis grand slam titles announced he would abandon the Australian Open if his pregnant wife went into labor. It didn’t happen, but his declaration shone the spotlight on the demands the sporting life has on parents.
Before you pluck your lute to sing the ballad of the sacrificial father, let me make something clear: LaRoche and Murray are hardly typical. No one I know makes $13 million a year, nor do they live in a mansion in Surrey, England. And they certainly can’t bring a child to work every day, let alone tell the boss that they’re pulling out of a potentially lucrative event. Most fathers simply don’t have that power or influence. Never will, either.
For them, putting family first sometimes means working long hours for an inflexible company under an insufferable supervisor in order to pay the bills and have the opportunity to squirrel away a few bucks in the kids’ college fund. For them there is no walking away from a contract or a tennis match.
Yet for all their privileges, LaRoche and Murray are the latest examples of a trend: Today’s fathers typically want to spend more time with their children. Fewer are the household’s sole breadwinner and more are willing to stay at home to mind the kids. In short, fatherhood is undergoing a slow but steady transformation.
I witness this on an almost daily basis, as my two oldest sons struggle with difficult choices, deciding between career ambition and family harmony, between hours spent in the office and time devoted to young daughters. They’ve discovered, as I did, that 24 hours can only go so far and that reconciling conflicting responsibilities is not a conclusive goal but one that has to be perpetually revisited.
LaRoche and Murray — even Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who famously said he would not give up family time to take on the speakership of the U.S. House — represent a generation that has pushed the issue of work-life balance into the mainstream. It is no longer exclusively a woman’s problem, or a young mother’s, or a dutiful daughter’s, as she takes care of elderly parents. Now finding the elusive equilibrium between the corner office and the ballet recital (or the nightly visit to the assisted living facility) is increasingly turning into a challenge for all.