October 16, 2007

Baby Talk

"A ridicule deferred is a ridicule lost forever."
R.A. Lafferty

"Last fall, a Toronto lawyer who works at one of the city's bigger firms asked for two weeks of paternity leave so he could help his wife settle into a routine with their newborn daughter. For that, he was mocked endlessly.
" 'So,' his male colleagues would say, eyebrows cocked, 'paternity leave, huh?'
"This tone suggested no true lawyer would ever do anything so sissified.
" 'It drove me nuts,' says the lawyer, who asked not to be identified."
--Dave McGinn, Nat Post, Oct 16 '07

What follows is a balanced journalistic account of this issue as it works itself out in the contemporary marketplace. You know the drill: follow this example with one from a friendlier work environment, wing in a few more anecdotes and then bring on the sociological observation on how things are changing in the workplace and how further change might be managed. Give me the basic data and I could produce a dozen of these a day, so long as I could repress a constant urge to giggle. (Humour is strictly frowned upon in this sort of think piece, though a think piece without humour is like a rainstorm without water IMHO: it lacks a little something.)

It doesn't seem to have occured to the lawyer--trapped in this anecdote like a fly in amber--that he had at least two responses available to him. The first was to maintain a dignified silence, firm in his own principles. In practice that seems to be out, since he was actually so infirm in his principles that this teasing "drove him nuts" as it would have on the school playground when he was three. In which case what he needs is a quiverful of barbed responses.

He could ask those teasing employees to tell him--quick, off the top of their heads--the names and ages of their children? What milestones in their children's development were they present for and which did they miss? First word, first step, little league, first school performance, first run-in with the law? Right, you were sort of obliged to take notice of that since parents, who on earth knows why, are held somewhat responsible in those cases if their children are not yet of age. Even if, as in your case, involvement was so minimal you could hardly have done or said anything to set them so seriously off on a wrong path. Your part of the joint enterprise was completed by your part in making them. And what's kept you a stranger to your children all these years? Ah right, all those thousands of extra billing hours in Millstadt v. Hagler, which has been in litigation more years than you can count on the fingers of both hands and is unlikely to be resolved in as many more. One or two colleagues whose hobby is literature have taken to calling it Jarndyce and Jarndyce and won't tell you why. Drives you nuts.

Certainly there's nothing the least bit sissy about a man all gwowed up whose life's work is resolving (or resolutely leaving unresolved) the endless hissy fits of corporations. Civilizations have been known to totter and fall over less. But do you never feel you've given over a little more of your heart and soul than--oh now please! the office is no place for that kind of blubbering.

C 2007 Martin Heavisides

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