Normally, a baseball player gets invited to the White House by winning the World Series. New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy did it Monday by missing the first two games of this season.
While some pundits criticized Murphy for taking paternity leave for the birth of his first child on Opening Day, Murphy's coaches and teammates publicly supported his decision. He found even more fans Monday as one of many speakers at a forum at the White House to discuss the importance of paternity-leave laws and working fathers finding time for their children.
"He did set off a national debate, and we're better for it," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said of Murphy. "This is a timely and important discussion."
The forum's speakers _ a mix of Cabinet members, academics and working fathers _ advocated for better paternity-leave policy, the importance of engaged fathers at home and highlighted the advantages parental-leave policies bring to families and companies.
Two million men were stay-at-home fathers in 2012. That figure reached its peak shortly after the recession in 2010 with 2.2 million stay-at-home fathers, double the amount from 1989, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center.
Sixty percent of fathers in dual-earner couples reported conflicts between family and work in 2008, up from 35 percent in 1977, according to a study by the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research center in New York focused on workforce and community issues.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who will miss a meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday to attend his daughters' high school graduation, lamented the country's lack of work flexibility for parents, particularly fathers, to find time for their children. He said worker flexibility policies improve workers' loyalty to a company.
"You shouldn't have to win the lottery in order to have the ability and privileges that I've had to make those decisions to spend time with our family," Perez said. "We live in a 'Modern Family' society, but frankly our policies are like 'Leave It To Beaver.' And we need to evolve."
Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said companies that increase paid-leave or workplace flexibility reforms reduce worker turnover rates, which can cost companies up to 20 percent of the employee's annual salary.
Forum speakers also touched on more complex issues of paid family leave for low-income parents, gay and lesbian couples and dual-earning households.
Julian Jenkins, a working father, said he grew up in a housing project in North Philadelphia without his father. When he had his own children, he decided to work the night shift at his job in order to have some day time with his three, now-adult daughters.
"I didn't want to be like my father," Jenkins said. "I didn't want to walk out on them."
As for Murphy, who did not miss any game action Monday as the Mets had an off day, he jokingly credited his 9-week-old son, Noah, for raising the issue of paternal leave.
"I never got my parents into the White House, and he's done it at nine weeks," Murphy said. Murphy appreciated the support from his coaches and teammates once he decided to take the paternity leave, but said, "You hope that you don't need that affirmation when you make a decision like this."
By Patrick Gillespie
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Alaska Dispatch Publishing