This Cadillac ad neatly encapsulates everything that's wrong with us as Americans. Cadillac was always an evil symbol, especially in its heyday. It always stood for conspicuous consumption, for new money, for flashy clothes and pinky rings and showing off. Now it wants to stand for a reward for people who think life outside of work should not exist. Whether it's George W. Bush calling a woman who has to work three jobs to feed her family "uniquely American", or calling the long-term unemployed "takers", we have this idea that unless you're spending every waking minute either doing work or thinking about work, you are some kind of slacker.
I just got back from a three-day oncology meeting in Boston, where I spent a lot of time with one of my European colleagues. She's about to take off for two weeks in the Seychelles. She'll take three, perhaps four trips like this in 2014, because where she lives, people get vacation time. Lots of it. Six weeks to start. They don't take their laptops with them and they don't check their e-mail, and when they get back they don't have to pay in blood for having taken time off. They don't work weekends, either. They have two people on the same project that in the US there's only one assigned. On weekends they have fun. They don't spend their weekends running the errands or doing the housework they couldn't do during the week. Working yourself to death in Europe makes you a chump, not a hero. And despite the myth perpetrated by Cadillac, it doesn't make you a hero here either. You're still just another number, just another mindless cog in a vast machine. If you drop dead of a heart attack at your desk, they'll have someone in to replace you by the end of the week.
The group in which I work is still in the throes of a reorganization that's been in process for over a year. None of us knows what our title will be when it all shakes out, or to whom we'll be reporting. We're all told we can apply to jobs that will be posted, but it looks like it's all kabuki theatre -- that people have already been chosen for those jobs.
In Europe, it's not unusual to get a year of paid maternity leave. But here in America, the myth is that we're "crazy hardworking believers" and that's why we do it. We do it for pools and Cadillacs, or so they tell us, when the reality is that we do it so we can delude ourselves that management has any idea who we are and that we can't be replaced tomorrow with some other drone. We do our job better than anyone else? So what? They'll live without it if it'll save a few bucks, or get them a younger or prettier version, or can send it overseas and not have to think about it.
I could post this three-minute rant by George Carlin every single day:
Charles and David Koch don't work any harder than you do. Neither does Donald Trump. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg does, but you can bet he won't be when he's sixty. But we've internalized this idea that we have to Work Hard. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. Until we drop dead.
All of which brings us to Daniel Murphy.
Daniel Murphy, for those who aren't familiar with him, is the second baseman for the New York Mets. Murphy isn't a natural. He works hard to learn how to field his position. He's got a decent bat and a mediocre but improving glove. He's not Derek Jeter, or Big Papi, or some other big-name ballplayer who can do whatever he wants. But here's what we now know Daniel Murphy is: He's a mensch. He's also persona non grata
on New York sports talk radio.
What is Daniel Murphy's crime?
He missed the first two games of the season after his wife gave birth by C-section on Opening Day.
: "You see the birth and you get back." Craig Carton
: "Assuming your wife is fine and assuming the baby is fine...you get your ass back to the team and you play baseball." Boomer Esiason
: "I would have said 'C-section before opening day."
: "It's going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience -- a father seeing his wife -- she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off. ... It felt, for us, like the right decision to make."
And good for him.
It isn't often that baseball makes it into the chick-o-rama into which Melissa Harris-Perry's weekend show sometimes devolves. But this story sure as hell did, and the fact that Chris Hayes is taking some time off following the birth of his SECOND child put it smack into MSNBC's radar.
It's good that we're having this discussion. It's good that Boomer Esiason apologized, but the fact that so many male sports announcers feel that your team (i.e. your JOB) should always come before your family, is troubling. But they're not alone. They're just a microcosm of what all of us who experience transitions in our personal lives go through.
And of course, since I'm rather self-involved these days (hopefully understandably so), I started thinking about the "widow brain fog" that seems to happen to about 95% of people of both sexes who lose a spouse. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how "done" you may have felt at times in your marriage, no matter if your life is "easier" without having to deal with someone who's angry and depressed and lashing out at you, losing the person with whom you've spent half your life tears a chunk out of your soul. You are not the same. You may FEEL the same for a while, but after the numbness wears off and the grief kicks in; the realization that this person Will Never Come Home, that Opening Day has come and gone and he is not here, that there's a Game of Thrones
marathon leading up to the premiere of Season 4 and he isn't here to watch it or share Season 4 with you, that you are going to grow old alone -- well, it changes you. And you do not run on all cylinders. You dream every night that he is still here and wake up every day feeling like you've been hit with a sledgehammer. You're exhausted all the time. You're an intruder in your own life. But most of all you realize that time is short and life is fleeting. And you want to be able to smell the roses.
The average duration of bereavement leave in this country is three days. From what I've been able to gather, it's not much better in Europe. If you need more time, you have to burn your vacation time -- IF you can get permission to do it. OR, you can look into a leave of absence, which is what I did, and I'm sure my experience is typical. If you are, say, suicidal and under the care of a mental health professional, or even better -- hospitalized or on suicide watch, you can get a disability leave. This protects your job and keeps you on company-paid health insurance. If your manager agrees, you can take a personal leave for a pre-defined period of time. It is unpaid, your job is NOT protected, you are on COBRA for health insurance (which decreases the duration of COBRA coverage if you leave your job), and if you are not ready to come back on the pre-defined day, you are assumed to have resigned voluntarily.
All things considered, I'm doing better than most people in my position. But I'm definitely not firing on all cylinders. If I could take four weeks off, say, with assurance of my job being there when I got back and continuation of health insurance, even if it was not paid, I would probably be doing a lot better. But I can't, and I'm not. One thing I'd like to do for activism in my retirement years is advocate for better bereavement leave or other accommodation for loss of a spouse or child. Because NO ONE can "suck it up and deal" after just three days.
Daniel Murphy is protected by the Players Union, so he will not suffer any consequences other than shitty remarks by talk radio rabble-rousers. But most Americans are not. Most of us are expected to show up every day, be tethered all the time, and show our dedication so we can delude ourselves that we have "job security." We give a whole lot of lip service to families in this country, but where the almighty dollar is concerned, we don't have a shit about families -- or people, for that matter.
Labels: American workers, Baseball, family values, New York Mets