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Should Dads Have to Fight for the Right to Attend Births?

Photograph by Twenty20

Add one sports reporter's question to the list of things you should never ask a parent. During a press conference, an unnamed journalist questioned Sarunas Jasikevicius, the Zalgiris Kaunas basketball coach, about his star player's absence at a recent semi-final game.

"Coach, what do you think about Augusto Lima going away in the midst of a series to attend the birth of his child?" the reporter asks in a viral video translated into English.

Jasikevicius, who was a former Maryland guard and dad of two, was visibly shocked by the question.

"What do I think about it? I allowed him to go," he said.

"But is it normal for a player to leave the team during the semi-finals?" the reporter pushed.

"Do you have kids? When you have kids, youngster, you'll understand. Because that's the height of a human experience. Wow, that's a good question, really. Do you think basketball is the most important thing in life?" Jasikevicius asked.

"No, but a semi-final is important," said the reporter.

The coach continued to turn the tables and pile more questions onto the reporter. "To whom is it important? ... Which one? ... Did you see the number of fans at the game? Important? When you see your first child, you will understand what the most important thing in life is. Because nothing can be more majestic in the world than the birth of a child. Not titles, not anything else. Augusto Lima is now in heaven emotionally. I'm really happy for him."

The exchange currently has more than 1 million views on YouTube.

Lima shared a photo of his daughter, Alba, on Instagram, saying how grateful he is to be a father in Spanish.

"It is undoubtedly the best gift of my life," he wrote.

Lima, who plays center for Zalgiris, missed Friday's semi-final Game 3, but the team still won 83 to 60. The new dad returned for yesterday's Game 4 and continued the team's lead in its best-of-seven series.

Zalgiris' quick return to the court isn't very surprising. Professional athletes are often criticized when they take leave to care for their newborns. One of the more famous instances of this was when New York Mets outfielder Daniel Murphy missed two games in 2014 to be with this wife and baby. Prominent talk show hosts blasted Murphy for the decision, showing just how entirely clueless people are about birth and how sexist it is to automatically label newborn care as the woman's responsibility.

“I would have said, ‘C-section before the season starts, I need to be at Opening Day. I’m sorry, this is what makes our money, this is how we’re going to live our life, this is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life, I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player,'" said Boomer Esiason.

“One day, I understand. And in the old days they didn’t do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help," said Mike Francesa.

This gender division in child-rearing and care-giving is especially ingrained in the sports world. For women athletes, getting back into the game after birth can be incredibly tough and filled with judgment. Their struggles are familiar to moms everywhere, who are damned if they do return to work (How can she leave the baby so soon?) and damned if they don't (Well, there goes her career!).

Photograph by Rex / Rex USA

"Women are widely expected to take on their role as mothers dutifully and quietly. Despite some developments in the way employers deal with maternity, pregnancy and childbirth are still commonly regarded as lifestyle choices made by women—and not by men—who willfully submit themselves to a career hiatus, stagnation or even termination in order to indulge in the luxury of having a baby," writes Emilia Bona in a recent Vice Sports feature on pregnant athletes.

These mothers and athletes often face a myriad of challenges, including breastfeeding struggles and energy and sleep deficits, that counter their training and ability to perform at the highest level. But they don't have the structural support needed to recover.

It's time to take Jasikevicius' words more seriously and actually do something to help the parents going through one of the most important moments of their lives, instead of shaming them.

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