Sharing Experiences: Paternity Leave is Essential (And It’s Not a Vacation)

One man’s experience taking a two-week paternity leave, and a call for more employers to offer it. A guest post by Aaron Gouveia of DaddyFiles.

 paternity

“So, how was your vacation?”

(This article originally appeared at Aaron’s great blog, The Daddy Files, on August 21st, 2013)

I can’t tell you how many people have asked me that recently. I know they probably don’t mean anything by it and I’m certain they gave very little thought to their words, but it still irks me something fierce. Because if you’ve ever done it, you’d know that paternity leave is most assuredly NOT a vacation.

I took two weeks of paternity leave after Sam was born. Luckily for me, they were two PAID weeks. I’m one of the fortunate few who works for a company that actually offers new dads two weeks of fully paid paternity leave. But even if my company didn’t offer the two weeks, I would’ve taken time anyway — either via vacation time or unpaid FMLA. Because I think it’s very important — hell, I’ll go so far as to say it should be mandatory — for both moms and dads to be home with the baby in the weeks following birth.

Mainly because those weeks are 1) really important and 2) really f^%&ing difficult.

Some guys just take a few days, but that barely covers the time it takes to get out of the hospital after your kid is born. And the hospital doesn’t allow for any kind of routine because the nurses are coming in every hour to check mom and the baby. That goes double if it was a c-section. Once you get home that’s when the real work starts, and that’s especially true for dads whose wives are breastfeeding because the baby needs mom most of the time and not you. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay completely on the sidelines.

Soaking It All In

Newborns eat, sh*t, and cry. A lot. Very few of them start out with any kind of discernible schedule — especially when it comes to the sleeping. But spending a couple of weeks with them is the absolute best way to really start figuring things out, and to get a handle on their personality. And that’s exactly what I did for two weeks.

I soaked Sam in, totally and completely. Even though he cried like a maniac just about every time I held him because all he wants to do is eat and I’m not equipped for that, it didn’t matter. I held him, rocked him, relaxed with him, took naps with him, talked to him, studied his facial expressions, and enjoyed (almost) every second with him. To my amazement, I didn’t even so much as check my work email that entire time — something that comes as a shock to those who know me well. And all of those experiences just wouldn’t have happened without paternity leave. There’s just no way.

I'm so glad I got to be home with Nick when he was born! I wish every dad had the same opportunity

I’m so glad I got to be home with Nick when he was born! I wish every dad had the same opportunity

Why Isn’t Paternity Leave More Common?

It’s a shame most companies don’t offer it to male employees (it’s a shame about the lack of maternity leave too, but I’m focusing on paternity for this article). But what’s an even bigger shame is many studies show even the men who are offered paternity leave sometimes decline it in part or in whole. Why is that? A few reasons.

First of all, many guys who take paternity leave face a very real stigma (I wrote in-depth about this at HBR -SB). Parenting is still looked at largely as a female issue, and some supervisors simply don’t see the need for men to delve into it. Furthermore, those men risk being thought of as slackers — people who aren’t genuinely serious about their careers. There’s always the worry that if you’re out for an extended amount of time you’ll be dinged come bonus/promotion time. And, at the heart of it all, some people think men who take extended time off are just wusses and pansies.

Of course anyone with half a brain knows this isn’t true at all. And thankfully, a small but increasing number of employers are seeing the light when it comes to paternity leave and flex scheduling for fathers. We’re not there yet, but slowly but surely we’re seeing a change.

But — and listen closely here — I want to reiterate to people that being on paternity leave is NOT a vacation. Not if you’re doing it right anyway. It’s a helluva lot of work and you basically turn into a sleep-deprived zombie. I know that doesn’t sound appealing, but trust me it is. It was so worth it to me to have that initial time to get to know my son. It’s the foundation of a solid father-son relationship and I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to try to fit that all in while I’m gone for work 12 hours a day.

It’s my sincere hope more companies start offering dads paid leave, while more dads realize the importance of using every available bit of it without fear of corporate retribution.

Thank you, Aaron! I couldn’t agree more. For more content related to paternity leave, see here, here, here, here or here.  

What do you think about paternity leave? Any experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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Aaron Gouveia is a father to two boys way too perfect to be his, and a wife way too attractive to have married him. When he’s not spiking his blood pressure watching Boston sports, he can be found detailing his fatherly thoughts at www.daddyfiles.com. You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.

Aaron and I met through the great dad bloggers facebook group. You can follow the work of the 400+ members here.

Sharing Experiences is a series of articles written by dads about their work-life experiences. These are shared in the hopes of generating conversation, sparking ideas, and letting dads know they are not alone in their work-family struggles. For more of these stories, click on the category link on the right-hand side of your screen. If you have a story to share, please contact me.

Leave a comment

8 Comments

  1. Scott, thank you, the impact of you role-modelling paternal investment at home is vital if we’re to shape the culture in our organisations. I’m writing from the UK where paternity leave is taken and it’s mostly acceptable to take BUT, we have a shared parental leave policy (additional and separate to paternity leave when baby is born) coming in in 2015 and the research (based on other countries in Europe where SPL has been in place for some time) suggests men won’t take it unless there’s a certain amount of time allocated solely to them and non-transferable to the mother, and it;s well paid. My interest in your post is as the founder of an organisation who helps career breakers (most notably maternity leavers) make their comeback and also as the author of the book “Mothers Work!” (Hay House, 2011)

    Reply
    • Hi Jessica. I’m aware of the new UK policy, and think it is a huge step forward. The Quebec province in Canada has a similar policy and over 75% of dads there take paternity leave.

      Keep up the important work on career breakers! I hope we can stay in touch, based on our common professional interests.

      Reply
  2. Yes! Totally agree with this. It should be mandatory, and it is not a vacation and it is a beautiful experience to bond with the newborn child.

    Reply
  3. As a dad who was able to take two weeks of paternity leave as I’m in the UK, I can really relate to what Aaron has said here about the benefits of paternity leave and the notion that it isn’t a holiday. I was lucky that my employer’s policies meant that my two weeks of paternity leave was on full pay rather than the statutory pay of £137 (about $200) per week. I’d love to see more dads being able to take paternity leave as it’s so beneficial from the point of view of everyone in the family.

    Reply
  4. I’m guessing that many of the people who refer to paternity leave as “vacation” are the same ones that refer to a father’s supervising his children as “babysitting.” Thanks for posting this great piece.

    Reply
  1. Expert Perspectives: Erin Rehel on Fatherhood, Masculinity and Paternity Leave | Fathers, Work and Family

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