Monday, January 05, 2015

How Not To Spend Your Paternity Leave

Here's a story about how not to spend your paternity leave.   That would be drinking while not having any interest in that new-born child:

My son was born in March, and my sabbatical went from early May to mid-January, which, in a tidy coincidence, is nearly nine months. But since his care was taken care of by his mother—whose apparent willingness and capacity to do almost everything for him flooded me with awe—I spent those nine months trying not to be bored while not writing a novel that was coming due. (No novelist who recognizes the unholy hardship of writing a novel ever wants to write a novel.) Hey, the proper dose of lager seemed to slacken my body without sapping my mind, and all day long, while I was not-writing my novel and not-feeding my newborn son, I looked forward to those drinks with a religious panting.

I can almost grasp the point of the story.  You have to put yourself in the pants of a writer who is looking for something shocking, something different, something properly narcissistic to write about.  And this topic certainly qualifies:

The time off is intended to let the new dad bond with the baby, to learn how to take care of the baby (so that there are two adults who have those skills), and this extra leave is a new thing in the US.

So what could be more exciting than to write the paternity leave up as an opportunity to wallow in booze?  Because the care of the baby was so totally managed by his mother, his father decided to drink.

It's shocking enough.  Of course, the way most read the story is as implying that paternity leave is just a silly invention and should be abolished.  It causes alcoholism!  The Natural Way is Between The Breast And The Baby and everything else is social engineering.

Yet some research suggests that proper paternity leaves are good for the psychological health of the child.   It can't be a bad idea to have both parents skilled at basic baby care, right?  

I'm not sure what to make of the editorial goal of publishing this piece.  Is the idea that paternity leaves drive fathers to drinking because of biological essentialist theories about who can take care of a baby?  Or is the idea that we shouldn't give paternity leave to drunks because their wives won't let them hold the baby at all?  In any case, most countries which have paternity leaves require them to be taken at a different time than the maternity leave part.  That way the dad is solely responsible for the care of his child.

I can see how that would not have been a good idea in this case.
Added later:  Two great parodies of this piece.