New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy headlined a White House discussion on working fathers today, nine weeks after an uproar over his decision to miss the first two games of the season for the birth of his first child.
The event is part of the administration's push for more workplace flexibility and paid parental leave as it prepares for a Summit on Working Families later this month.
Murphy's Major League Baseball contract allows three days of paternity leave. But some sports radio personalities blasted him for his April decision, suggesting that he should have hired a nurse instead.
On Monday, Murphy told a White House audience that the peace of mind his wife felt when he said he'd be there for the birth "melted my heart."
And when his son Noah asks about the day he was born?
"I could have answered, 'Well, Stephen Strasburg hung me a breaking ball that day, son, and I slammed it into the right field corner," he said to laughter. "But ... I'm the one who cut his umbilical cord. And long after they've told me I'm not good enough to play baseball anymore, I'll be a father and a husband."
The Obama administration called the event a "first ever," and it was slightly jarring to hear senior male officials tout their child-rearing role in a way that guilt-ridden working mothers rarely do.
"Last Friday afternoon ... I cut out early," said Labor Secretary Tom Perez. It was his son's birthday. Perez also plans to miss an economic Cabinet meeting with the president on Tuesday to attend his daughter's high school graduation.
A few weeks ago Perez says he was at a parent-teacher meeting. He's also coached his kids' sports teams for a decade. But he was quick to add how lucky he is to have that kind of flexibility, noting that many working men in the U.S. have no leave at all and little wiggle room in their work schedules.
"Providing flexibility and leave improves worker loyalty, morale and productivity," Perez said. "In other words, it improves the bottom line."
Jason Furman, Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, said the influx of women into the workforce starting in the 1970s played a big role in boosting economic growth. In a slide show presentation, he also noted the sharp rise in dual income families, single fathers and single mothers.
"The one thing that we haven't figured out how to make grow or expand ... is just the amount of time in the day, the number of days in the week," he said.
Surveys, he said, have begun showing that men feel more stress over work-life conflict now than women.
According to a new Boston College Center for Work and Family study released at the event, men overwhelmingly want paternity leave. But some fathers at the White House event described a persistent stigma, at work and in society, at the prospect of stepping up their caregiving role.
President Obama has long pushed to change "workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode," as he said to loud cheers in his State of the Union address. But legislation has gone nowhere in a divided Congress. So he's tried to use his budget to help states who want to create their own paid leave programs.
In an election year when women, as always, are a key voting bloc, officials may also be betting that this focus on men will appeal to the women who negotiate the daily work-life juggle with them.