I have many roles in my life, but the one I’m most proud of is being a father. I was in the delivery room to see the birth of all my children. However, taking time off from work to be there was a struggle.
During my 20-year tenure at my former company, taking time off for any reason was seen as a lack of dedication and commitment. Admitting that you needed time to rest and recuperate was also seen as a sign of weakness. One of the guys’ favorite quotes was “If our jobs were easy, then our wives would be out here doing them.” In their minds, a man’s only role was to go to work and support his family. Caring for children was woman’s work.
I heard the snide remarks when I took off a week for the births of my first two children. That’s not what real men did. Real men worked. These antiquated notions of gender roles troubled me and I felt as I needed to challenge the corporate culture.
In 2006, when I was expecting the birth of my third child, I asked our HR Vice President if the company would ever offer paternity leave to workers in the U.S. He gave me a convoluted answer that essentially meant no. Over the course of the pregnancy, I kept asking company executives about paternity leave and they kept giving me excuses as to why it wasn’t a good time to implement such a policy change.
As the date of my son’s birth neared, I decided to take two weeks off instead of one. I had over 400 hours of vacation time banked and I was determined to take a sufficient amount of time to spend with my wife and child. When I handed my vacation request to my boss, he looked at it and said, ”I never took off when my kids were born and they turned out fine.”
“I’m glad to hear that, sir,” I said.
“What in the hell are you going to do? Sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed?” He asked.
“I’m going to support my wife and spend time with my child,” I said.
“I’m only approving one week,” he said as he reluctantly signed my form and slid it across his desk. “Make sure to keep your Blackberry on.”
I spent the entire week taking calls, answering e-mail messages, and working on projects. My boss actually called me while I was in the delivery room to ask a question about work. It was as if I were simply working from home instead of bonding with my newborn son. I was frustrated with and angry about the company’s lack of consideration.
Many of my co-workers felt the same frustration. They wished they could spend more time with their families, but they rarely asked for a vacation, sick days, or any other time-off because they feared the ridicule and repercussions. The guys who worked the longest hours and spent the most time in the office were the ones who were rewarded with promotions, interesting assignments, and raises.
Obviously, many companies need to change their internal cultures to reflect the prevailing societal norms. Gender roles continue to evolve and more men are placing a greater emphasis on family. We may never achieve the perfect work/life balance, but companies have to give their employees the time away from work so they can be actively involved in their children’s development.
Of the world’s richest 41 countries, the US is one of only 15 that does not offer any paternity leave, despite the majority of Americans supporting it.
However, things are starting to change. The president recently signed a measure that grants federal employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Major corporations such as Netflix, Facebook, Bank of America, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and others are also taking notice that dads want more baby-bonding time and actively touting their paternity leave policies to prospective hires.
I’m glad to see the positive changes that are happening, but our country still has a long way to go when it comes to paternity leave and father’s rights. Fathers play important roles in their families’ lives beyond bringing home the bacon and should be given the time they need to bond with their children.
Frederick J. Goodall, Mocha Man Style Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief