Ask Your Father

Paternity Leave Policies Fail Fathers. One Advocate's Trying To Change That.

"The struggles of dads are taking place in the shadows, unfortunately."

Parental leave has become an increasingly hot button issue in recent years, as new mothers and fathers fight for equality in the only industrialized nation that doesn't offer paid time off after childbirth. 

While U.S. law requires large businesses to meet certain standards by offering 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), said measures don't apply to 40 percent of workers, and most Americans can't afford unpaid leave. After all, only 15 percent of men receive replacement pay during paternity leave. (Fifty-eight percent of women receive pay, although that's typically funded via disability benefits courteous of their health insurance provider.) Moreover, according to a new study conducted by Promundo and Dove Men+Care, one in five men (22 percent) actually fear losing their job if they take the full amount of paternity leave offered

"The struggles of dads are taking place in the shadows, unfortunately," Josh Levs, paternity leave advocate and Dove Men+Care partner, told A Plus. "Stereotypes still exist that portray dads as incapable buffoons, or that real, masculine strength only comes in the form of physicality."

Having fought his own battle for paid paternity leave while at CNN, Levs recognizes that this fight remains one war society has yet to win. "These stereotypes have real-life consequences," Levs explained. "Leaders in business and government continue to think of family concerns as a women's issue. So they build laws, policies, and cultures that push women to be caregivers and men not to be. Everything that holds back women at work also holds back men at home, and dads are suffering from work-life conflict at the same rate, or an even higher rate, than moms. Men are also dealing with just as much stress. They have much higher suicide rates and are much less likely to get help because doing so is seen as not being 'manly.'"

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As the study notes, 73 percent of dads in the U.S. agree there's little workplace support for fathers, while 87 percent report being more satisfied with their lives when they can be the caregivers they want to be. Sixty-nine percent of those polled are even willing to change jobs if necessary to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their newly born or adopted child. Yet, while the desire's there, the laws and policies simply haven't caught up to the times.

"More people are starting to wake up to the reality that dads are involved parents, too," Levs said. "When President Obama made some remarks in a State of the Union address, my phone started ringing like wild! Despite increased attention and news coverage around paternity leave, in general, as well as some policy announcements from big companies, overall, there has not been much advancement in making paternity leave happen." 

"We need to get paid family leave going," he added. "It's clear that it will not happen federally under the current administration and Congress, so we need to push for it locally in more states, as well as within businesses. California, New Jersey. Rhode Island, New York, and Washington all now have it, and it's proven great for business and the economy. We also need to educate more business about the monetary incentives to offering paid paternity leave, as it's proven to attract and retain talent while boosting profits."

Levs now works with companies to help them create policies that are proven to work and increase profits by offering caregiving leave for any employee who needs to care for a new child, elderly parent, or sick spouse. However, as he emphasizes, said policies only matter if they're backed up by a culture that actually supports men taking the leave. Thus, Levs tells businesses that, when enacting such measures, it's "20 percent policy and 80 percent culture."

"Men have been fired, demoted, and lost job opportunities for taking paternity leave when it's available. This has to stop," Levs explained. "So I work with businesses to enact cultural change, breathing these new ideas and understandings into the life of the organization. And I help them get men to feel equally comfortable talking about work-life balance, so women and men can work together to tackle these issues."

Now, in partnership with Dove Men+Care, Levs and the company have made it their mission to alter how the public views dads and increase awareness for improved paternity leave policies nationwide. Along with the study, Dove Men+Care released a short film as part of its Dear Future Dads campaign, where the company spoke to real dads from around the world and asked them what advice they would give to future dads. The campaign specifically focuses on how important it is to take the time to care from the start by taking paternity leave.

Dove Men+Care also made one-time surprise contributions to 27 active crowdfunding paid family leave requests of real dads and their families across the country. Because many families face hardships when taking unpaid time off work for the birth of a child, men and women have embraced new ways to support themselves during these important life moments, including online crowdfunding, so Dove Men+Care chose to shine a light on the financial burden families who don't have paid leave face. 

"Paternity leave benefits everyone — society, the economy, businesses, women, men, and most importantly children," Lev added. "Some people have a gut reaction to reject it, saying that it must hurt someone because "someone has to pay for it," which is untrue. Actions that expand the entire economy can help everyone. Paid family leave, which includes paternity leave, benefits everyone because it expands output and the economy. And more importantly, it's a necessity. There's no good argument against it, and Dove Men+Care has set out to spark a cultural movement to encourage other companies to come together and offer men paid paternity leave so they, too, can have the ability to spend time with their newborns. So let's make it happen."

Cover image via  pixelheadphoto digitalskillet / Shutterstock

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