Dwyane Wade is spending another week away from the court after the birth of his fourth child, a daughter (by surrogate) with his wife Gabrielle Union. Wade’s paternity leave will see him missing a total of six games, including a homestand against LeBron and the Lakers on Sunday. And while the legendary guard’s two weeks of leave is the bare minimum recommended by child development experts and pediatricians, it’s rare in the high-pressure world of professional sports. And that makes Wade’s commitment to paternity leave a powerful example for men and managers who believe that dads shouldn’t miss work after the birth of a child.
Sure, Wade is a multimillionaire who has the luxury of financial stability, but that doesn’t mean there’s any less pressure on him to get back to work. The Heat are currently rocking a 14-man roster and with point guard Goran Dragic out with a knee injury, the team is running dangerously low on guards. Wade is clearly conscious of that fact. Plus, it’s his final season in the NBA and it’d be ridiculous to assume he doesn’t want to make the best of it. But while he might feel some pressure to return, he is staunchly putting fatherhood first. His Twitter bio says as much: “’I’m a father First and everything else after that…”
But what’s perhaps even more extraordinary than Wade insisting on bonding with his new daughter, is the fact that his coach Erik Spoelstra is so supportive of his leave. When asked about how long Wade’s leave might be, Spoelstra was pretty supportive, saying “It’s day to day, but as much time as he needs.”
It’s rare that new dads hear and absorb “take as much time as you need” from their boss, regardless of the industry. But it’s even rarer in professional sports. Consider St. Louis Chiefs quarterback Kirk Cousins who FaceTimed into a meeting with his coaches while his wife was in labor next to him. Think about the fact that MLB, the only professional sport to offer paternity leave, only allows three games off and the offer is rarely taken.
And more disturbingly, when professional athletes do take time to leave to be fathers, they have a tendency to be roundly criticized by bonehead pundits trying to offer hot masculine takes. On this year’s opening day of the MLB season, for instance, the Mets Daniel Murphy took the full three-game leave. That prompted New York sports talker Mike Francesa to say “I don’t know why you need three days off, I’m going to be honest. You see the birth and you get back. What do you do in the first couple days?”
Much of this criticism is couched in old ideas about masculinity and being a good, strong provider. But being a provider is more than monetary. A kid can be given the world, but science is clear that without father involvement a child’s development will be hampered. Kids who don’t have time to bond with dads are consistently found to have problems at school, and face an increased likelihood of addiction and psychological problems, including depression. The fact is that “support” is about way more than just about being there when the kid pops out and then running back to work to earn that cheddar.
Luckily, with Wade’s leave, there has been very little criticism. In fact, there seems to be global support for his insistence to take time off with his wife and child. Of course part of that might be due to the fact that he’s clearly owning paternity leave. He’s been very vocal on his Twitter feed that he’s been a doting, hands-on father. Dude even changes diapers, you know, as a good dad does.
The fact is that professional sports are one of the last bastions of old-school masculinity. The importance of fatherhood, emotional vulnerability and being a good husband has come slowly to the leagues, but it looks like with Wade’s paternity leave things might be changing. The hope is that men in other high testosterone fields will see the example and take the time they are given. Because every single one of those minutes is more spectacular than a one-two step dash to the paint that draws the foul.