More Dads Want Paternity Leave. Getting It Is A Different Matter

Aug 13, 2014
Originally published on August 13, 2014 7:14 pm

After nearly four weeks at home with his infant son, Kumar Chandran has the diaper thing down.

"Shhh, almost done," he says, hunching over Kai on the living room floor of their Washington, D.C., townhouse, while his wife, Elanor Starmer, tries to placate the fussy baby.

Chandran says there was no question he wanted to be home at this time. The nonprofit he works for offers four weeks of paid parental leave — the same for men and for women. He says this has let him bond with his son and pick up on subtle cues.

"At first it's like he's crying," says Chandran. "It could be ... 17 different things. And now you're like, 'Oh, I think he's hungry.' "

Then there's the practical aspect.

"Every day I'm like, I can't imagine doing this by myself," he says. "If it's just having someone take him so that someone can take a 10-minute nap or eat or make breakfast or something like that."

But Chandran will have to do it alone. Once his wife goes back to work, he plans to take another month off, using vacation and sick leave.

While an ever-rising share of men say they want to have this kind of time with a new child, Chandran is among a lucky few who actually do. In the U.S., paternity leave is a luxury. It's the only developed nation that doesn't guarantee paid time off, even for new mothers.

Scott Coltrane, interim president of the University of Oregon, who researches fathers and families, says more young men want time off with a new child — but just 10 to 15 percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave, almost all in white-collar professions.

"The main reason men don't take it is because they don't have wage replacement — so they can't afford to," Coltrane says.

Some states are acting on their own, mandating paid family leave for most workers. In California, the number of men taking it has doubled in a decade. Coltrane says that's good for men, kids and women.

"Fathers who take leave end up doing more of the routine work later," Coltrane says. "They do more of the transportation, more of the cooking, more of the child care, more of the doing homework with the kids. It's just kind of an early buy-in that helps men stay involved later."

In fact, some other places have taken pains to increase the share of new fathers taking paternity leave.

"Quebec, like Norway, Sweden, have these dedicated daddy days. It's a use-it-or-lose-it [system], and if the men don't take it, nobody gets it," Coltrane says.

Coltrane says programs like these have helped boost the number of fathers taking paternity leave from fewer than 2 in 10 to 8 in 10.

But in the U.S., stigma dies hard, and this past spring, there was a very public display of it. When the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy took advantage of a paternity leave provision in the Major League Baseball players collective bargaining agreement and missed the first two games of the season for the birth of his first child, sports radio lit up.

Host Mike Francesa got this call from "Larry in Flemington": "What is the maternity leave for a baseball player, Mike? I never head of something so ludicrous in my life."

Francesa then went on a 20-minute rant, noting that he'd been back behind the microphone the very day his kids were born.

"What are you gonna do?" Francesa said. "I mean, you gonna sit there and look at your wife in a hospital bed for two days?"

A few others joined in, but the media backlash was strong. And last year, when golfer Hunter Mahan's wife went into early labor, he left a million-dollar tournament he was leading to be there for the birth. Sports media applauded the move, giving him father-of-the-year kudos.

Karyn Twaronite is among those cheering the growing cultural embrace of paternity leave. "I think it's fantastic for the workplace," she says.

Twaronite is a partner at Ernst & Young, a professional services firm, where almost all new fathers take two weeks of paternity leave. If they're the primary caregiver, they get up to six weeks.

Twaronite says it gives the company a competitive edge. Ernst & Young has surveyed workers — its own and others — and finds that the youngest generation of employees has a very different attitude toward balancing work and life.

"Gen Y men rated day-to-day flexibility even higher than Gen Y women," Twaronite says. "They would be more likely to leave a company if day-to-day flexibility was not offered. I don't know that we would have seen that 10 years ago in the workplace."

Twaronite says Ernst & Young has worked to change hard-driving corporate culture. It has encouraged top managers to take paternity leave and talk about parenting openly, as role models.

It even offers executive coaching to new moms and dads. Ernst & Young Senior Manager Jared Crafton was meeting with one coach as he prepared for his second paternity leave.

"She's kinda part coach, part therapist, part cheerleader," Crafton says.

Now back at work, Crafton worries that he may not be on top of his game. "To give you an example, I've been up since probably 4:15 this morning. I'm quite tired. One of my fears is that maybe I'm not being as efficient as possible. Maybe I'm not getting back to people as fast as I should be."

So he took it to his coach, who's been anonymously polling his colleagues about what they expect from him. They'll discuss it at their next session.

New dad Chandran has found his colleagues to be fully supportive of his long paternity leave. Same with friends, says Starmer, his wife.

"What I've sensed is that the people that we've talked to who haven't been able to take much time off — and that's the vast majority of them — have seemed sort of impressed that you're able to do that," Starmer says. "But it's definitely — the signal is, this is really rare."

Friends are happy for them, she says — and jealous.

This story was produced for broadcast by Marisa Penaloza.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Our series on the lives of men now turns to fathers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I think out of everything that encompasses being a man, I have to tell you, being a father, it's number one. It's very strange and wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's hard, it's tough. You know, because you've got to be a comedian, you've got to be a worker, you got to know how to handle different situations - especially when you have kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It's easier to be a dad than it is to be a husband. I think I like kids better than I do adults (laughing).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I've gotten to the point in my life where I completely and totally buy into the fact that I am defined by my fatherhood. I'm a dad, period.

SIEGEL: Fatherhood is a phase of life that many guys are now embracing with gusto. Will hear about the rise of daddy bloggers on Friday. Today family life and the workplace. The U.S. is the only developed nation that doesn't guarantee paid time off for new mothers. And paternity leave is considered a luxury. But as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, more young men say they want and expect time off with a new child.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: After nearly four weeks at home with his infant son Kumar Chandran has the diaper thing down.

KUMAR CHANDRAN: Shh. Almost done. Almost done.

LUDDEN: Chandran hunches on the living room floor of their Washington D.C. town house while his wife Elanor Starmer tries to placate baby Kai.

ELANOR STARMER: I know bud, this is your least favorite activity.

LUDDEN: Chandran says, there was no question he wanted to be home at this time. The nonprofit he works for offers four weeks of paid parental leave - the same for men and women. He says, this has let him bond with his son, pick up on subtle cues.

CHANDRAN: At first it's like he's crying. It could be any, you know, it could be 17 different things. And now you're like, oh, I think he's hungry.

LUDDEN: Then there's the practical aspect.

CHANDRAN: Every day I'm like I can't imagine doing this by myself. You know, if it's just having someone take him so that someone can take a 10 minute nap or eat or make breakfast or something like that.

LUDDEN: Although he will do it alone once wants his wife goes back to work. Chandran plans to take another month off using vacation and sick leave. While an ever rising share of men say they want to have this kind of time with a new child, Chandran is among a lucky few who actually do.

SCOTT COLTRANE: The main reason men don't take it is because they don't have wage replacement so they can't afford to.

LUDDEN: Scott Coltrane of the University of Oregon says, just 10 to 15 percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave. Almost all in white-collar professions. Some states are acting on their own, mandating paid family leave for most workers. In California, the number of men taking it has doubled in a decade. Coltrane says, that's good for men, kids and women.

COLTRANE: Fathers who take leave end up doing more of the routine work later. They do more of the transportation, more of the cooking, more of the childcare, more of the doing homework with the kids. It's just kind of an early buy-in that helps men stay involved later.

LUDDEN: In fact some other places have taken pains to boost the share of new fathers taking paternity leave.

COLTRANE: Quebec - like Norway, Sweden - have these dedicated daddy days that's a use it or lose it. And if the men don't take it, nobody gets it. So they went from, you know, in the teens to now 8 out of 10 dads taking paternity leave.

LUDDEN: But in the U.S. stigma dies hard. And this past spring there was a very public display of it. When New York Mets second baseman, Daniel Murphy, missed the first two games of the season for the birth of his first child sports radio lit up. Host Mike Francesa got this call.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: For a baseball player, Mike. I've never heard of something so ludicrous in my life.

MIKE FRANCESA: Listen.

LUDDEN: Host Francesa then went on a 20-minute rant, noting he'd been back behind the mic the very day his kids were born.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

FRANCESA: What are you going to do? I mean - what? - are you going to sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days? I mean, what are you going to do?

LUDDEN: A few others joined in - but the media backlash was strong. And last year it was a totally different story when golfer Hunter Mahan's wife went in to early labor. He up and left a million dollar tournament he was leading. Sports media embraced that move, giving him father of the year kudos.

KAREN TWARONITE: I think it's fantastic for the workplace.

LUDDEN: Karen Twaronite is with Ernst and Young, where almost all new dads take two weeks paternity leave. If they're the primary caregiver they get up to six weeks. Twaronite says, it gives the company a competitive edge. Ernst and Young has surveyed workers - its own and others - and finds the youngest generation of employees has a very different attitude toward balancing work and life.

TWARONITE: Gen Y men rated day-to-day flexibility even higher than Gen Y women. They would be more likely to leave a company if day-to-day flexibility was not offered. I don't know that we would have seen that 10 years ago in the workplace.

LUDDEN: Twaronite says, Ernstand Young has worked to change hard-driving corporate culture. Its encouraged top managers to take paternity leave and talk about parenting openly as role models. It even offers executive coaching to new moms and dads.

JARED CRAFTON: She's kind of part coach, part therapist, part, you know, cheerleader.

LUDDEN: Ernst and Young Senior Manager Jared Crafton recently returned to work after his second paternity leave. He worries he may not be on top of his game.

CRAFTON: To give you an example, I've been up since probably 4:15 this morning, you know, I'm quite tired. You know, one of my fears is that maybe I'm not being as efficient as possible, maybe I'm not getting back to people as fast as I should be.

LUDDEN: So he took it to his coach who's been anonymously polling his colleagues about what they expect from him. They'll discuss it at their next session. As baby Kai tries to sleep on his stomach, Kumar Chandran says, his colleagues fully support his long paternity leave - same with friends says, his wife Eleanor Starmer.

STARMER: What I've sensed is that the people that we've talked to who haven't been able to take much time off - and that's the vast majority of them - have seemed sort of impressed that you're able to do. That but it's definitely - the signal is - this is really rare.

LUDDEN: Friends are happy for us, she says, and jealous. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.