How to Honor Our Fathers
By Karen S. White
The media talks a lot about women as the traditional family caregiver. But as we look forward to Father’s Day celebrations, we need to remember that more and more fathers are stepping up and taking on caregiving responsibilities.
Even more would do so, if they weren’t punished for it at work.
Consider James, a New Jersey father of five including twins born in September 2008 – before the state’s Family Leave Insurance (FLI) benefits went into effect. He couldn’t take much time at the time of their birth.
Then the FLI program started in June 2009. Because FLI allows for bonding leave to be taken during the 12 months immediately following the birth of a child, James was able to take six weeks in one-week increments that June through August.
“This worked well for the family and me,” James says. “I was able to get used to getting up in the night for feedings, and I was able to not fall behind at work too much.
“I never had the opportunity to take any time off with the first three. I think I had 1-2 days off after each of their births. As a father, you are looked at as a ‘spare part’, and not really given any chance to get used to a new family. Fathers are still expected to work while dealing with sleepless nights, feedings, etc.
“Having family leave with the twins made me appreciate mothers more, made me spend more time with the babies than I ever was able to before and be more relaxed having this quality time with them.”
James is not alone. A study recently conducted by the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, Policy Matters, Public Policy, Paid Leave for New Parents, and Economic Security for U.S. Workers, shows that public policies can substantially increase workers’ utilization of paid leave as well as the duration of leave following the birth of a child.
The study found that adoption of California’s Paid Family Leave program had a particularly strong impact on men. For the average new father in California, the predicted likelihood of taking paid family leave following a child’s birth more than doubled after the implementation of the new law, from 35% in 2004 and earlier to 76% in 2005 and after.
This was true even among new parents who already had access to paid leave through their employers. In fact, the researchers found that the average new father in California with access to paid leave through an employer had an 86% likelihood of taking paid leave in 2005 and later, compared to a 61% likelihood in 2004 and earlier. One possible explanation for this is that public policy acted as a signal that it is now socially acceptable for men as well as women to take paid leave.
For James and fathers like him, public policy has the potential to significantly change the way they parent by giving them the opportunity to be involved with their children from day one.
That’s a gift that lasts a lifetime.