By Allison Stevens
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Allison Stevens knows all about the guy who puts in long hours at the office. He's her husband. But he's also the same man who recently took paternity leave--and had the best time of his life.
One lingering complaint, however: He couldn't use his deep well of sick leave during this period (which was when our son was 6 months old) because of his gender. As a father, and not a mother, he was apparently not entitled to use sick benefits to care for our child because a certain limited amount of time had passed.
But he did exhaust his vacation leave--and then some--to care for our children after I went back to work, and I cannot overstate how fabulous it was for our family.
During these two months I was married to the equivalent of a traditional wife and mother, with all the benefits that bestows on any bread earner. What a gift!
But my husband was the greater beneficiary. He has often said since that those two months (he tacked on a couple weeks of unpaid leave) were the best of his life. He lost two weeks pay and ignored warnings about the risk to his career, but he came out ahead, way ahead.
Sporting a beard, a baby carrier, and his version of a gender-neutral diaper bag (a black backpack) spilling over with diapers, wipes, my pumped breast milk and all manner of other infant accoutrements, John headed out--often with the dog in tow, too--every morning to the park, the museum, the playground, wherever, to spend some quality time with his kids.
He loved every last minute of it. When I asked him how he felt about going back to work, his eyes began to water.
Now, my husband is no crier. He didn't cry when he proposed to me. He didn't cry during our wedding ceremony. He didn't cry during the birth of our first and second sons.
Like most men, John expresses neither joy nor sorrow through tears.
To be sure, my husband loves his job. But the mere thought of returning to the long days and late nights of his working world--and missing out on uninterrupted weekdays with his children--brought him to an emotional precipice.
John and I are now talking about ways he can spend more time with the kids, from job-sharing to flex-time and all the other options women often wind up considering after we become mothers.
It's the kind of discussion we all need to have, not just us women. Men may be seen as less macho in the work force if they alter their schedule for their children, and perhaps they'll pay a price in the same way that women do if they attempt to find that precarious balance between work and family.
But the discussion alone can yield incalculable rewards.
Talking about ways fathers can spend more time with their children could open up more options for dads and will push the work-family movement forward--and it may just make a few more overworked fathers well up with tears of joy.
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Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C.