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Taking Father Time

Paternity leave issues.

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

Oct. 9, 2000 -- Alex Garcia (not his real name), tucks his 6-month-old daughter Mia into the crook of his arm and starts to feed her an evening bottle. Back from a long day at the office, Garcia uses his free hand to rub his eyes. He looks down at his daughter adoringly, and the tension of the day seems to melt away. "The easiest thing is coming home," he said. "It doesn't matter what happens during the day, you see that face and it all goes away."

From the moment Mia was conceived, Garcia and his wife began preparing for her arrival. He'd read every book on pregnancy and parenting he could during his wife's pregnancy and was eager to take time off to be with his new baby. Though the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 allows both parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, he soon realized that the California district attorney's office where he worked had a different "policy."

His co-workers informed him that the unofficial office rule allowed for a maximum of two weeks off. No father in his office had ever taken off more time, and although Garcia was disappointed, he valued his job and decided to make do. "If I'd had my druthers, I would have taken off as much time as I possibly could," Garcia said. "But I didn't want to be the one who decided to push the envelope."

The Working Dad's Catch-22

Alex Garcia is not alone. Studies show that the majority of fathers do want more time off from work to be with their families. However, fear of losing their jobs or suffering reprisals at work keeps many fathers in the traditional breadwinner role. This leaves dads with little time to be equal partners in the parenting process -- a fact that experts say can be a loss for both father and child.

Part of the problem is that employers have yet to embrace the concept of paternity leave, making the FMLA a de facto maternity leave policy, says Armin Brott, author of The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year. When he asked executives, human resource administrators, and CEOs how much time they thought was reasonable for a man to take off after the birth of a child, 40% answered, "no time at all."

In the conflict between work and family, what they want remains clear to most fathers, even if they feel their employers don't support it. According to a recent study released by the Radcliffe Public Policy Center, 71% of men ages 21 to 39 say they would give up some of their pay for more time with their families.

Taking the Time

Leander Kahney, 34, is among that 71%. He says his boss was supportive of his decision to take four weeks' unpaid paternity leave from his job as a reporter at San Francisco-based Wired News so he could be with his wife, three children, and newborn baby. But he doesn't dismiss the possibility that it might have set him back. "It's a crazy workaholic society, where it has more to do with the hours you put in than your talents."

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