My friend Tom asked me to address the following question as part of my new role as The Ethicist:
THE QUESTION: Is it okay to go golfing while your wife is in the hospital the day after your daughter was born?
THE ANSWER: Of course it’s okay. If my daughter wasn’t born in January, I would have likely been playing golf after her birth as well. If your wife and daughter are under the care of doctors and nurses and your presence is not required, there is no reason why you cannot play a round of golf. However, this only works if you and your wife operate under the exceptionally rare but highly recommended martial philosophy that rejects compulsory shared suffering.
For reasons that I fail to understand, many married couples operate under the assumption that if one parent is not having fun, the other cannot. This fervent attachment to mutually-assured destruction keeps many men and women from ever leaving the home during the first few years of their children’s lives. Rather than heading off to a movie with a friend or for a round of golf with a couple buddies, these self-flagellating couples adopt an all-or-nothing approach to life.
Either we both see that movie or neither one of us does.
Either we both enjoy our Sunday afternoon on the links or we both stay home.
What’s worse, it’s quite common for one parent to actually benefit from this belief simply based upon his or her personal preferences. For example, I have a friend who has not seen the inside of a movie theater or spent a night out with his buddies in years, yet every other weekend he finds himself in the home of his in-laws, visiting on a Sunday afternoon. Conveniently for his wife, this just happens to be one of her preferred ways of spending a weekend afternoon. Therefore, she is fortunate enough to be able to spend her leisure time in a way that she prefers because it happens to coincide with the time that her kids can spend with their grandparents. But since her husband’s leisure choices do not fit into the socially-acceptable construct of visiting family, he loses.
As a result, he’s unhappy.
Just what every wife wants. An unhappy husband. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it happens all the time, and regardless of a spouses level of unhappiness, it rarely changes.
So yes, go play golf. Of course you should play. And in a couple weeks, when your wife wants to get a manicure or meet with friends for coffee (two of my wife’s preferred leisure activities), you’ll stay home with the baby. No need for both of you to be on baby-duty at the same time. You must continue to enjoy life beyond your children, and this is one way to make sure that it happens.
When I tried to ask my wife if she agreed, she answered before I had even finished the question:
“Of course he should play golf. The hospital takes great care of moms. Now is the perfect time for him to enjoy himself.”
But like I said, not every person is as enlightened as my wife. The situation works well for me, and it might work for you, but it most certainly won’t work for the majority.
MY SUGGESTION: In this case, the ethical choice and my suggested course of action are one and the same. Regardless of how your wife may feel about your decision to play golf, and regardless of her protests or objections, you must go play golf. In fact, I think it is a moral imperative. Your happiness is critical to your effectiveness as a husband and father, and therefore it should remain one of your top priorities, no matter how many newfound obligations your newborn brings. Unhappiness and embitterment must be avoided at all costs, as they will ultimately erode and destroy your your relationship with your wife and, in turn, your children. For all the sacrifices that you will make for your family now and in the future, none should ever be made at the expense of your own happiness.
With two spouses committed to the rejection of compulsory shared suffering, this is possible.