I did not expect to be much enlightened by the will-he-or-won't-he drama surrounding Rep. Paul Ryan and the Speaker of the House position. And for days I was not.
Then Ryan laid out his conditions for accepting the post, including:
"I cannot and will not give up my family time."
I was gobsmacked.
Let's set aside, for a moment anyway, the hypocrisy of this statement coming from a man who voted against giving federal employees four weeks of paid parental leave.
And let's not dwell on the cynical thought that this was nothing more than a bargaining chip played by a highly sought-after recruit against an employer desperate for his services -- in other words, a game that plays out in corporate America every day.
Instead, let's admit what it was at its root. Ryan's was the rare male voice -- make that rare high-profile, power-player male voice -- calling for a balance between work and family. Imagine that. Paul Ryan, avatar of progressivism.
There is much to admire here. Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, is renowned for flying home from Washington on weekends to spend time with his wife and three young children. His worry about missing the "formative foundational years of their lives" seems heartfelt.
And having spent far too many nights at work calling home to talk to each of my three daughters before they went to bed to catch up on their days during their formative years, and having made innumerable mad dashes to try to catch their school and sports events, I'm with him. It's time you never get back, influence you never get to have, absence that on some level is always noted. You try hard to make up for it later, but there's always a nagging feeling that you've lost a precious opportunity -- to your detriment and that of your children.
Usually, it's women talking about balance -- perhaps because, as a society, we're far more obsessed with whether women can achieve this balance than men. Men, unfairly, get a free pass -- perhaps because, as a society, we've expected them to work nights and weekends.
About the only time work-family balance emerges publicly as a male issue is when an athlete misses games to be present for the birth of a child. And often that decision is controversial. Some applaud him for doing the right thing, others condemn him for failing his obligation to his team. Remember Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy getting ripped by fans and radio talk-show hosts for skipping two games last season to be with his wife and newborn son?
Ryan got blowback, too. Some Republicans grumbled that being speaker is not a 40-hour-a-week position -- which, of course, is not what Ryan was saying. But his stand is not likely to have any political consequences. "Family time" is amorphous, after all. It doesn't have a concrete price tag as, for example, four-week paid family leave does.
That's the next step for Ryan, and the one that would be really impressive. The United States still is the only developed country that has no policy of guaranteed paid family leave. Ryan's party has been the major impediment -- even as the country is warming to it. Polling earlier this year found that while two-thirds of Americans support paid maternity leave, 55 percent want paid paternity leave, too.
I'd be even more gobsmacked -- and delightedly so -- if Ryan's future actions matched his words of today.