About 12 years ago yesterday, my son was born. I was there. I gave him his first bath. The next day, I was back at work. In fact, I was at work when my (ex-)wife went into labor. For a number of reasons, I hadn't been present for my daughter's birth at all.
Within five months, I was a single parent. The circumstances were unfortunate, but in the end this was probably the best thing that could possibly have happened to me as a father. I spent more time with my kids in their first years than most dads. More dads should have this experience. So should their kids.
When my son was born, I was in the military. I'm not even sure "paternity leave" existed in the loafer-wearing civilian world, but it was as far from the realm of possibility in the military back then as two gay sergeants getting married in the main post chapel. Today, according to a link sent to me by a friend, at least 16% of civilian companies offer paid paternity leave to their employees.
Paternity leave? Really? They have such a thing? Want to know what surprised me even more? Some guys don't use it.
That's right. Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!) isn't the only workaholic parent out there who is willing to miss a priceless chunk of their children's lives to maintain a rung on the corporate ladder. Guys apparently do this all the time. On that count, I suppose Marissa is to be congratulated for going all-in at the boys' table. Or not.
According to a relatively recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Three-fourths of U.S. men take leave after the birth or adoption of a child, but most take off a week or less." Well, sure. If you're not getting paid for it, who can afford to knock off work for a couple of months? But, if your employer offers paid paternity leave it's a little hard for me to imagine not taking it. Why would you not take paternity leave?
The Chronicle article provides a possible answer: "An experimental study by Laurie Rudman and Kris Mescher found that men who requested a 12-week leave to care for a child or elder were more likely to be demoted or downsized because they appeared more feminine than other men."
Fired because they appeared more feminine than other men? A law firm associate named Ariel Ayanna is suing his former law firm employer after being fired, he alleges, because he refused to assume a stereotypically "male" role in connection with his children. The law firm's "macho atmosphere" dictates that real men go to work and only women stay home to take care of kids. Metrosexuals, take note! If your boss thinks it's girly to take care of your own children, what's he going to think about those facials, manicures, spray-on tans, and creamy hand lotions?
As a former single parent, I find this attitude toward child care a little alarming. What if there is no woman at home? What do "real men" do then? Sell their kids?
Our culture has historically believed that the more hours you work the "better" you are, but that mindset is slowly changing. Overwork can lead to a host of health problems and Gen X/Gen Y males no longer accept these as inevitable consequences of survival. Meanwhile, both men and women are more willing to address the gender inequity of putting caregiving duties all on moms. And, probably more important than either of these trends, studies reveal just how important it is for dads to be actively involved in the lives of their kids from an early age. Dozens, if not hundreds, of articles and books — even government pamplets — have been written on the subject. There seems to be general agreement that fathers parent differently than mothers and that both inputs are essential for healthy child development.
Fortunately, our legal system is slowly starting to recognize that dads are parents, too, and as such should be given equal protection under the law. The University of California's Hastings School of Law Worklife Law project describes several ways in which men may experience "Family Responsibility Discrimination (FRD)" at work. Lawsuits like Ariel Ayanna's may become more common as millennial fathers seek more work-life balance.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle article, millennial guys "are growing increasingly restive and resistant" to out-dated, hyper-masculine myths. There's plenty of reason to be hopeful.