Paternity Leave: When a Week Isn't Enough

"Before I had kids, I did resent co-workers who had constant medical appointments for their children," says Grgich, who used two weeks of vacation time when his first child was born and was — to his elation — offered one week of paid paternity leave at the birth of his second child in May. "But having [children] of my own shows how difficult it can be to avoid having to take time off to care for sick kids."

In fact, his second child was born with a cleft lip, which means "more doctors appointments than the typical newborn." As Grgich's wife also works outside the home, he plans to use his vacation time to attend many of these appointments. And because he wants to pull his weight at the office, he ensures he makes up any workweek hours he misses while on dad duty.

Blast From the Past

Of course, not all managers are as supportive as Focazio's and Grgich's, and most companies won't pay a lick of family leave (U.S. law doesn't require them to).

One 34-year-old Ohio dad, who wanted to remain anonymous, works as a communications professional in an office that he says is "very mommy-friendly," but less than understanding of fathers who request flexible work arrangements.

"Most of my female colleagues take as much time as they need — usually more than the 12 weeks of FMLA -- and all have been offered telecommuting setups once they return," says the father of two, who's expecting his third child this fall, and whose wife also works outside the home. "When our youngest son was born, I had hoped to take two to three weeks of vacation time to help around the house and enjoy the growing family, but the phone and BlackBerry never stopped ringing. I was back in the office by week's end."

Unfortunately, for Ohio Dad, the male management at his company has a retro view of parenting, one that doesn't get why dads might want to put family first.

"Our department director has even made off-the-cuff remarks like, 'Don't you have a wife?' or 'What's your wife doing?' when I said I was taking my son to the doctor," Ohio Dad explains.

According to Coontz, who's written about gender roles and families in five books, including "Marriage, a History," this "vicious cycle" plagues many of today's new fathers.

"Because the assumption has been for so long that a man has a wife to take care of him, the man who wants to take time off is seen as an unproductive worker," she says. As a result, she adds, many dads will pretend they need the day off because they're under the weather, rather than admit they need to care for a sick kid.

Brian Reid, who publishes the popular stay-at-home-dad blog, says it's up to enlightened execs to pave the way for making parental leave and flexible work acceptable for men.

"The problem isn't that work doesn't allow for flexibility -- it's that guys are working in a culture where that sort of thing isn't encouraged," says the 33-year-old Washington, D.C.-area father of two, who started the blog when he was a full-time parent and now works for a PR firm. "The only way to begin changing that culture and making it more acceptable, is to lead by example. It's amazing what a difference one or two high-profile employees can do to prove that work-life balance is possible."

This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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