What Working Dads Really Want and Need
Every year on a Sunday in June, we celebrate fatherhood with breakfast in bed and new neckties and games of catch in the backyard.
Those are all great things, but working dads need more.
If we really wanted to honor America’s fathers, we need to instead give them help Monday through Friday with a new social contract and better paid leave.
In our discussions of how best help parents, we often end up discussing the issues of working mothers. But their problems are directly related to the issues facing working fathers.
The stereotype is that men aren’t interested in parenting. But research shows that’s not the problem.
In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that two-thirds of men wished they had taken more time off after their child was born. Now, new research shows what was stopping them: poor paid leave programs, low pay and a stigma around taking paternity leave.
A survey of 1,714 Americans aged 25 to 45 found no difference between men and women on how involved they want to be in their children’s lives, but fathers also said that they worried what other people would think if they prioritized their children over their jobs.
It’s not just about paternity leave. Those first few weeks are when children bond with their parents, when new family routines are set and when the relationship between two parents shifts, sometimes permanently.
If those patterns are set early with mothers assuming the bigger role in parenting, that imbalance will only compound. After all, why would a man who didn’t take much paternity leave take a morning off a year later to take a kid to a doctor’s appointment?
Part of fighting this stigma falls on men. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be defined by such a narrow range of options.
I’m speaking from personal experience. As I’ve written before, I left a prestigious job as a federal prosecutor in the nation’s capital so that I could spend more time with my young children.
And as it turned out, I didn’t sacrifice my career. In fact, I now run my own firm focusing on issues like pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, and I’m happier than I ever was in my less family-friendly jobs in the past.
But as a white-collar professional, I’m one of the lucky ones. Not everyone has the same freedom to make these choices, and the rest of us need to fight for them too.
Only 38 percent of American workers have the option and ability to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and a scant 15 percent have access to paid family leave, according to data compiled by the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. It’s not just stigma that’s holding these men back.
So, what can we do? First, vote for candidates at the local, state and federal level who support stronger paid leave laws that will benefit both men and women.
At the personal level, if you can take paternity leave, take it, especially if you’re in a position of some authority. Not just for you, not just for your children, and not just for your spouse.
We need to show that spending time with your family is not just an option but an expectation. This is the kind of subtle work challenging stereotypes that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg so helpfully did.
If other men in your workplace take time off to be with their families, support them. Volunteer to help cover their jobs while their away.
Avoid dumb jokes.
Give them the same support and help that you should already be giving working mothers.
Tom Spiggle is author of the book “You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace.” He is founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, which has offices in Arlington, Va., Washington, D.C., and Nashville, Tenn., where he focuses on workplace law helping protect the rights of clients facing pregnancy and caregiver discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination in the workplace. To learn more, visit: https://www.spigglelaw.com.