Dads across the nation may be known for their corny jokes, but things get serious when it comes to taking time off for their newborns.
Recently, Americans have been debating paternity leave, ever since Sen. Joe Manchin spoke out against a recent paid family leave bill and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took time off from his own job amid an ongoing supply chain crisis. The conversation is a part of the heated negotiation over universal paid family leave — a draft policy that was slashed from the federal spending bill last week before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added it back in on Wednesday.
But the issue goes beyond political peacocking, dads say.
Men have faced sharp stigmas and an “unspoken pressure” when making a decision on paternity leave, according to Blake Woodward, a 39-year-old father of two and founder of Suit Tie Stroller, an initiative dedicated to empowering dads to be as devoted to their families as they are to their jobs.
Men who want to take their allotted time off — even when the most common corporate policy for paternity leave is just two weeks, compared with 12 for moms — are faced with criticism and contempt, Woodward said, citing a recent conversation with a senior-level executive father who wanted to be home around the birth of his child.
“It obviously wasn’t welcomed by his peers and there was talk about impact on career progression,” Woodward told The Post. He added that these kinds of judgements — and thinly veiled threats — are common in a “broader culture” that shames hands-on dads, particularly in male-dominated industries such as engineering, construction, IT and portions of finance and banking.
That workplace bias was echoed by political commentator Steven Crowder last month, who tweeted: “Paternity leave is for p—ies.”
But real dads who have taken leave vehemently disagree.
“Paternity leave is certainly not for the weak,” Alex D. a Dallas-based father and leadership consultant, who took two weeks off in late winter of 2020 for the birth of his first child, told The Post.
“It makes you more of a man,” the 30-year-old said, noting that although he officially took leave, he felt pressure to stay connected to his job while he was home, which left him juggling work and a newborn.
The “big time career guy” wishes he could have unplugged entirely for that short time: “There shouldn’t be a stigma on it,” he said.
But the stigma endures — and with it, the fear for fathers that their careers will stall out if they devote more time to the kids at home.
“Fear that promotions and career advancement will gravitate to people who are in the office more frequently” is a top stress for dads considering paternity leave or remote work, according to a survey of a few hundred dads across four continents and 25 countries, conducted by Woodward’s initiative.
“[That fear] is very real. Especially for dads because it is far less a norm for dads to be taking parental leave,” Woodward said, noting his survey found only 36 percent of fathers took leave last year.
Despite the stresses brought on from work, Alex said going on leave became one of the most rewarding things he’s ever done; he plans to do it again for his second child, expected in February 2022. “You get in touch with a different side of yourself,” Alex said, adding that being there for his wife after the birth improved his marriage as well.
Woodward said that paternity leave has proven benefits: “There’s research showing dads who take two or more weeks of leave upon birth are more likely to stay involved as an active dad moving forward.”
Still, even fathers who want to be home with their families face serious challenges.
Jonathan Marin took paternity leave with the birth of his first child in 2014, but couldn’t swing it a second time due to financial stresses.
“I couldn’t afford to do it again,” the non-profit program director told The Post. Although he’s entitled to leave, it comes with a pay cut. After their daughter was born in May, his wife could only take six of 12 weeks off from her nursing-home job because her salary gets reduced for family leave as well. (Legally, New York state parents or primary caregivers are allowed to take up to twelve weeks off, at two-thirds their salary for the duration.)
So Marin, 39, decided to help out as much as he could with the baby while working form home.
“I’ve been juggling daddy duties … I’ve had to hold [my daughter] on Zoom calls and schedule meetings in between naps,” said Marin.
While it’s not ideal, Marin maintains that he’s happy to be home — and involved.
Woodward has found that more and more, dads are saying they want to help out with their babies. According to his survey, 84 percent of dads would consider “significant life decisions” — like changing careers — if it meant more flexibility around family. On the other hand, only three percent wanted “life to return to the way things were before COVID-19.”
“Time with family [during lockdown] reprioritized things in fathers lives,” Woodward said, stressing that dads in a bad work environment shouldn’t feel trapped into staying.
“Many are seeing now that there’s other jobs out there that support these priorities.”