March 7, 2008
More new fathers are taking time off
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Christiaan Johnson-Green didn't rush back to work after his son, Saul, was born six years ago. Instead, he called his Manhattan law firm as soon as his wife went into labor and announced that he was starting his paternity leave, effective immediately.
His employer at the time offered four weeks' paid time off for new dads, and Johnson-Green planned to take advantage of it.
"I never left the hospital. I stayed in the room for four days and just couldn't imagine missing it," the 36-year-old Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., resident says.
"I was an extra set of hands, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about taking care of my son. He was a brand-new human being, and I wanted to be around him as much as I could."
Johnson-Green took a second paternity leave from his current job when his daughter, Elizabeth, was born in June.
And he is not the only new dad taking time off, thanks to a recent rise in paid paternity leave, more flexible time-off policies and increasing involvement among fathers in raising children.
While the U.S. still lags behind many European countries, family leave is evolving, particularly for dads.
The average job-guaranteed leave for men increased from 13.1 weeks in 1998 to 14.5 weeks in 2005, according to figures from the Families and Work Institute, a New York City research organization that studies work trends.
The group found that fathers, especially young ones, are spending more time with their children than they did in the past.
Meanwhile, a few cutting-edge companies are offering new dads paid time off, ranging from a few days to a few weeks.
A 2007 study of U.S. companies by the Society for Human Resource Management says that 17 percent have paid paternity-leave policies.
Though a much larger number of companies offer paid leave for new mothers, it is usually covered by short-term disability; only 18 percent offer true, paid maternity leave.
Farely new benefit
The global company KPMG was one of the first companies to offer paternity leave to its U.S. employees, in 2002, by granting new dads two weeks of paid time off for up to a year after the birth of a child.
About 30 percent of dads took advantage of the policy in its first year; that number surged to 80 percent in 2007.
Some state governments are also taking steps to accommodate new fathers.
In 2004, California became the first state to offer partially paid family leave to new dads of up to six weeks, and paid-family-leave bills have since been passed or introduced in several other states, including New York.
Washington state action
The Washington state Legislature approved paid family leave last year but didn't provide funding for the bill.
"Paternity leave has always been a tough thing," says Donna Dolan of the New York Paid Family Leave Coalition. "If we can get paid family leave, then dads can get 12 weeks."
Men without paid paternity leave can take vacation time or sick days when their children are born.
A growing number of new dads also are taking unpaid family leave from their jobs, thanks to the federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for their own illness or to care for a newborn.
Albert Cruz, of Valley Cottage, N.Y., opted to take off 12 weeks without pay from his job as a respiratory therapist when his son, Christian, was born two years ago. He took off another 12 weeks after his second son, Lucas, now 2 months old, was born.
Cruz, 39, started saving aggressively and took a second job nine months before his wife's due date so he could afford to forgo his salary for three months.
"I actually planned it from the day we found out we were pregnant," Cruz says. "I just thought about it and said to myself: 'Family leave is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for every child that is born or adopted.' "
He says the time at home has allowed him to bond with his children and help his wife, Marina, with night feedings.
"I just feel a closer bond," Cruz says.
"I think that you actually get to understand and know them more as they develop. You tend to pick up on quirks and personal needs and unusual needs and traits that you will only see if you spend ample time with them."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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