Would you walk away from $13 million and a job that is the envy of most men in order to raise your kids the way you wanted them to be raised?
That is what Adam LaRoche did this past week when White Sox executive Kenny Williams told him to stop bringing his 14-year-old son, Drake, to the clubhouse on a daily basis. In the process. LaRoche did something even more radical than give up a huge paycheck: He brought the notion of work-life balance into the sports pages.
LaRoche has declared to the world that it is cool to want to spend a lot of time with your kid.
“When a public figure like LaRoche comes forth and does something like this, it’s really important because it changes public perception,” said Dana Glazer, the director of the Evolution of Dad, a documentary on the changing concept of fatherhood. “It make the behavior more acceptable. It shows that the idea of engaging with your child is something that’s important for both parents.”
Outside the world of sports, the subject of fatherhood has been a hot topic for a while. The traditional, Mad Men-like notion of a man being a detached breadwinner has been found both impractical and undesirable for many families.
The White House held a summit in 2014 on the changing roles of fathers, which featured Glazer’s film and an appearance by a number of fathers, including the Mets’ Daniel Murphy.
According to the most recent U.S. census in 2010, 32 percent of married fathers — or 7 million fathers — identified themselves as “a regular source of care” for their children under 15.
Yet in the world of sports, in which we expect our heroes to push through everything — family obligations, injuries and often healthy relationships — for the sake of the team, there is a rich tradition of players being taken to task for trying to achieve some sort of balance between their professional and personal lives.
One of the first players to really feel the wrath of the sports world for picking family first was David Williams, an offensive lineman with the NFL’s Houston Oilers. Williams was fined $125,000 in 1993 for missing a game in New England the day after his wife, who previously had suffered a miscarriage, gave birth.
“This is like World War II, when guys were going to war and something would come up but they had to go,” Bob Young, an Oilers assistant coach, told reporters after the game. He later added: “My wife told me she was having a baby and I said, ‘Honey, I’ve got to go play a football game.’ ’’
Though it has since become commonplace for baseball players to miss games for the birth of their children — a three-day absence is covered under the collective-bargaining agreement — Murphy was roasted all over sports talk radio after missing the first two games of the season to be with his wife, who was recovering from a C-section. Mets manager Terry Collins called the criticism unfair.
LaRoche, of course, is taking the involvement in his son’s life a step further. Ultimately, his employers have the right to decide whether to have children in the clubhouse. And LaRoche has the right — and the financial resources — to walk away from a situation that affects his family values.
“I had to make a decision,” LaRoche said in a statement on Twitter on Friday. “Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family?”
LaRoche chose family, a decision younger fathers are making more and more.
LaRoche’s teammates, many of whom verbally have supported his decision, have grown up during an era in which many mothers work and many fathers try to participate in the day-to-day lives of their kids. They’ve grown up in an era in which a growing number of men’s rest rooms, including those at many major league parks, have diaper-changing tables.
“For many years, fatherhood was de-emphasized to where you went away to work and your value was based on a paycheck,” Glazer said. “At the end of the day, all that money doesn’t amount to anything. The most meaningful thing that engaged fathers do is spend time with their kids and guide them.”
For now, LaRoche will be guiding his son away from the ballpark.