Taking 4 Months of Paid Paternity Leave Made Me a Better Father
On a Saturday night in February 2020, my life changed forever. My wife and I took a cab to the hospital. As she groaned in pain, our driver played a Muslim prayer for women in labor. When we arrived at the hospital, he shook my hand with a knowing nod. Within a few hours my wife and I welcomed our healthy baby boy.
In the months that followed, I navigated these changes and kept my family's well-being intact in large part because my employer provided four months of paternity leave at full pay. That experience left me convinced that every parent should expect the same.
Adorable as they are, newborns are not a joke. The fact I could pause my career while still getting paid meant that I was on hand to help with diaper changes, bath time, and other essential care. With us both on leave, my wife and I split the nights into shifts so that one of us was always awake to care for our boy while the other had a chance to sleep.
That time meant I could help my wife recover from childbirth. It also meant I could provide her breaks from her incredible nurturing of our son and watch him while she exercised, enjoyed her coffee unperturbed, or went for a walk with friends. Parents do not stop being individuals once their children are born. My presence at home meant that my wife could sustain that part of herself.
It also gave me the chance to bond with my son. The pandemic's upending of the NBA season delayed his induction into long-suffering, character-building Knicks fandom. But our strolls in the woods and on the waterfronts of Brooklyn, New York showed me that he will likely grow up to prefer mountains over beaches. The songs that made his face light up—Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love" and Aretha Franklin's rendition of "I Say a Little Prayer"—helped me focus his musical education. The closeness we developed will no doubt serve us when the time comes for me to instill more consequential fatherly lessons.
There is a growing body of evidence about the importance of paternity leave. Studies show that fathers who take paid leave when their children are born are more likely to develop close relationships with their kids and are less likely to get divorced. There are additional practical benefits. Babies have no immune systems for the first two months of their life. Allowing parents to largely withdraw from public society when their children are in those early, dangerous months can help prevent them from inadvertently risking their child's health. Having two parents each receive paid leave when a child is born can also help them postpone the need to purchase child care, which is a crushing expense for many families in America and even more exorbitant for infants than older children.
In recent weeks, some have pointedly attacked the idea of paternity leave. Tucker Carlson of Fox News brayed to his primetime audience as he reduced parental leave to little more than learning to breastfeed. And Matt Walsh, a contributor at the content mill The Daily Wire, insisted that paternity leave is unnecessary because fathers have so little to contribute when a new child arrives.
Opposition to paternity leave can have different motivations. Some believe it is an undue burden on employers. Others denounce it because they believe women have no appropriate purpose beyond the home. But these differing attacks on paternity leave share a stunted, morally brittle conception of fatherhood and manhood and a failure to account for what is demonstrably best for children and parents.
Paid parental leave is good for parents and children. Every father should have the opportunity to both provide for his family and be there for his partner and children. Strong societies require strong families and paid parental leave helps ensure families can remain healthy and strong.