The thought of a dad taking off work after the birth of a child has been a taboo for years, why take off if mom is there. I cannot recall a time I sat in the barber shop (when I had hair… beyond my beard) and heard men having conversations that went like this, “Yeah man, my paternity leave starts on July 8th, I’ll be out for six weeks helping my wife get adjusted.” There has never been a time where I’ve heard a dad say “I’m excited about bonding with my baby during my paternity leave, I can’t wait!” Now clearly I'm a bit sarcastic in my descriptions of “barbershop talk,” but I hope my point is received, men typically don’t have access to paid paternity leave, so these conversations rarely if ever happen.
Let me first define both Maternity and Paternity leave.
a period of absence from work granted to a mother before and after the birth of her child.
a period of absence from work granted to a father after or shortly before the birth of his child.
The first time I heard of paternity leave was in 2016 when a friend of mine was working for Vanderbilt Medical Center located here in Nashville. He told me that when his daughter is born, he would be taking his paternity leave for four months from June 2016 – October 2016. According to him, his four-month leave was a combination of the six weeks Vanderbilt would give him plus the twelve weeks legislated through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In the state of Tennessee employees and employers are subject to federal law concerning both maternity and paternity leave under the FMLA. According to Tennessee law, FMLA grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. I think this is pretty cool, but before that conversation in June of 2016, I had never heard of the term. Granted my daughter wasn’t born until 2017, and I hadn’t entered the Father-verse, to even start thinking about the perks or roadblocks parents face in the workforce.
I don’t want to get too far in the weeds about laws, policies, and benefits. After all, this blog is a creative outlet for me, not homework and not a Master level thesis project (been there done that)!
When Journey was born, I didn’t have the benefits that would have allowed for paid leave for six weeks. If I'm honest, as the Executive on my job, I wasn’t even sure I was in the position to be away from work for six weeks. Instead what I did was cash in on my three weeks’ worth of paid vacation to stay home and “help out”. Those three weeks were rough! Now, I’m not about to say anything that any parent with a newborn doesn’t already know, but here I go. I GOT NO (ZIP, ZERO, NADA) SLEEP! There were actual moments I wanted to take the baby back to the hospital (only between the first two days, lol). Nothing had ever violated my sleeping more than the inconsistency of a newborn baby’s sleeping, eating, and crying patterns. Imagine losing that much sleep and having to go to work the next morning. I know folks do it all the time, but the shock of it all would take some adjustment on my part. For those reasons, I’m thankful I had the three weeks of paid vacation, and it’s why I want to encourage Fathers to advocate for universal paid family (paternity) leave. Dad's need it too! I put *help out* in quotes above because that was the initial mindset around why I would take any type of a leave, oppose to the truest essence of paternity leave, which is for a father to be able to bond with their newborn baby. I’m sharing this aspect in order to normalize the conversation around men having equal rights around paid leave during the birth of a child.
Another one of my friends just became the father to a baby girl, and he is on paid paternity leave for 12 weeks from his job. Now, I usually wouldn’t mention places where my friends are employed as I’ve done in this blog. However, there’s a purpose in it. My friend with the newborn daughter works for Comcast. I’m calling out companies like Comcast, and institutions like Vanderbilt for the practices they have in place to honor both moms and dads after the birth or adoption of a child. Parents (both genders) need and deserve time to be with their children immediately after birth. Based on my experience it’s a precious time and equally challenging, so all hands on deck are needed.
Fathers (especially fathers to be) before the arrival of your newborn, be sure to check with your HR department, and review state laws about paternity leave policies and practices. For those of you who can negotiate paid leave for the birth of a child in your contracts, do it! Your spouse and child will benefit tremendously by your consistent presence and support during those first few weeks and months.
SIDE NOTE: Thank you Dove Men+Care for being a leading voice around paid paternity leave. Click here to take Paternity Leave Pledge!
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