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Taking Father Time

Paternity leave issues.

Taking the Time continued...

Brott says fathers like Kahney risk a career penalty for taking paternity leave as long as American society equates being a good father with financial success. "There is a lot more pressure for a man to earn," he said. "It's how we value what a good father is, and the potential damage to his career if he takes off is far greater than for a woman."

Still, Kahney doesn't have any regrets about his decision to both help his wife recover from childbirth and spend quality time with the rest of his brood. "The more time you spend with the kids, the better. Better for the child and better for you, too."

The Pros of Early Participation

Kahney's sentiments are strongly supported by the research of Kyle Pruett, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University Child Study Center. Pruett says spending time early on with a newborn is important for everyone -- dad, mom, and baby.

One advantage: Those early interactions can help boost a new dad's confidence. "Parenting is not in your gonads and not in your genes; it's something you have to learn at the hands of your child and vice versa," he says. "If you don't take paternity leave at the beginning, you will always feel like you're joining the journey in the process, instead of having started off at the trailhead together."

Early participation also strengthens the spousal relationship, says Pruett. "A lot of women talk about feeling more attracted to their spouses when they are competent parents," said Pruett. "To have their spouse be a confident, nurturing father is pretty irresistible to most women."

And even at this young age, a baby benefits from the father's presence as well, says Pruett. The results of his long-term study on the role of the father, published in the Nov. 1998 issue of Pediatrics, found some special strengths in children whose fathers were actively involved in their daily lives. "The children were very competent developmentally," says Pruett. "They tended to have social competence, problem-solving skills, all of which seemed to make them good adapters to the world."

The Paycheck Pop

Possible work discrimination isn't the only issue -- taking three months of unpaid leave is another very real barrier for most dads. Pruett concedes that until paternity leave is paid for, it will remain largely a privilege of the wealthy rather than a viable choice for lower- or middle-class families. "To have 12 weeks of unpaid leave not only drops them into a different tax bracket but also into a different social bracket," he says.

The Clinton administration agrees. In an effort to help working parents afford time off when they have or adopt a child, President Clinton announced on June 10 the publication of a Labor Department regulation that encourages states to provide unemployment benefits to both mothers and fathers taking parental leave.

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