Paternity Leave: When a Week Isn't Enough

I've always felt the world was divided into two kinds of people: the family-track folks (most of the population), and the holdouts (people like me) who were too busy, too unprepared, or too satisfied with their status quo to raise a child.

Then, one of my fellow holdouts — a friend I've known since college — decided to give parenting a whirl. Suddenly, I took great interest in every detail of how she and her husband planned to juggle raising a baby with their office jobs, especially during those first few trying months.

While the Family and Medical Leave Act allowed my girlfriend to take off four months (mostly unpaid) from her social service job, her husband only managed to nab a week off from the small wine distributor he worked for, as companies with less than 50 employees aren't subject to the FMLA.

Hubby's measly week away from work wasn't just hard on his wife, who needed a c-section, which meant she needed help doing everything from lifting the baby to her breast, to finding the time to brush her own teeth. Not being home during the day to help his spouse and bond with his baby pained new daddy, too.

Obviously, today's hands-on, quality-of-life-loving fathers are a far cry from the dads of, well, my dad's generation. Back in the late 60s, when I was a wee sprout, dads didn't dare enter the delivery room, let alone take time off from work to bond with junior or toss in the occasional load of laundry.

But these days, studies about fathers happily doing their fair share of child care and housework abound. Ditto for Web communities that cater to stay-at-home dads, such as AtHomeDad.org and DadStaysHome.com.

It would seem that, as a society, we're finally in grave danger of catching up with the fact that 75 percent of moms work outside the home, wage gap and lack of paid family leave be damned.

Most of the public conversation about family-friendly workplaces dwells on the needs of moms. So, in honor of Father's Day, I thought it was high time we let dads have their say about parental leave.

Call of the Nurturer

"More than two-thirds of dads with a kid of under five will take paternity leave when it's offered by their employer," says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families.

Martin Focazio, a 43-year-old father of three, and a strategist at a digital media agency in Manhattan, is one of those fathers.

"It used to be provide, protect, nurture -- pick any two," he says. "But now, it's provide, protect, nurture -- pick any three. And that's the difference between the generations."

When his third kid was born in February, Focazio gladly accepted the three paid weeks off his company offered so he could play nurturer alongside his wife, and he didn't have to sacrifice any vacation time to do it.

"At my company, half of the top managers have young children -- under 5 years old -- and I think that's a big factor," Focazio says. "The folks at the top have to have some kind of reference point that matches your own."

Family Leave Envy

For workers who aren't caregivers, it can be tough to watch colleagues with dependents leave an hour early to drive little Danny to the dentist. Drew Grgich, a 35-year-old IT professional from Gilbert, Ariz., can attest to this. Once upon a time, he, too, suffered from family leave envy.

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