The thought of handling baby duties solo can cause anxiety for some men. When my wife and I first decided that I would take four months of paternity leave to care full-time for my then-six-month-old daughter, Sophie, my head was filled with the disastrous diapering and feeding scenes from the movie Three Men and a Baby (minus the ’80s hair and outfits). It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Sophie and me, but in reality, it was nothing like the movies. And it really only took a few days for us to get our routine down.
Couples who split the child-care duties during the first year are not yet the norm in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, about 25 percent of Canadian fathers take some sort of parental leave (usually two weeks or less). In Quebec, more than 75 percent of fathers take some kind of pat leave. (In 2006, the province introduced three to five weeks of paid, fathers-only leave, and it's quite popular.)
I think it’s now fairly acceptable for guys to take a few days or weeks off after a new baby’s arrival. Being there for the first frazzled days when your partner is healing and the baby is adjusting to her new environment is important. I took two weeks off after my daughter was born, and I’ll give you a preview: there may be crying at the drop of a hat, and there will be swearing at the breast pump. But a lot of dads wonder whether they should take extended time off, and when. There seems to be an unspoken stigma around the idea, which is a loss for fathers everywhere. For me, it was a fun and rewarding experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
Like me, Toronto dad Adrian Kupesic also recommends taking your leave when your little one is a bit older. “I loved the time I took with my baby,” he says. “My daughter was nine months old, which meant she was more relaxed, and planning our days was way easier.”
I was lucky to start my paternity leave in the middle of spring. Parks were swarming with kids, and splash pads and pools were just starting to open. Sophie was old enough to enjoy the infant swings and dipping her toes into the wading pool. She was also old enough to have started on solid foods, and we’d switched to bottle-feeding—I could feed her just as well as her mom could.
Getting out and about is vital for all parents on parental leave in order to avoid feeling isolated. “We tried to be as active as possible each day,” Kupesic says. “We’d usually go to the park before snack and nap, and the afternoons were spent practising first steps.” Unfortunately, there aren’t as many programs for dads taking time off with their kids—most of the parenting groups even have “mommy” in the title, scaring off some guys. For me, city-run parent-and-baby swimming lessons a few times a week made all the difference. Occasionally, I’d spot a fellow dad across the park with a diaper bag and a stroller. We never struck up a conversation, but I think we both took a little comfort in knowing we weren’t alone.
There will be times when it isn’t easy—I remember the day my daughter refused to take a bottle and clammed up at the sight of puréed baby food, which prompted a frantic call to my wife at her office. (Together we deduced the symptoms and concluded teething was the culprit.) There was also the epic diaper explosion that happened when we were out, and there was no change table in the men’s room (unfortunately, fellow dads, you’ll need to get used to this). Instead, I changed my unhappy infant in her stroller in a nearby park.
While I was fortunate to have a very supportive employer that offered a supplementary top-up during parental leave, I did worry about being away from my career. When I returned to the office after four-and-a-half months, I definitely had a lot of catching up to do. I still think it was worth it: Because of that time spent together during my daughter’s first year, I really do think that Sophie and I have a special bond. Plus, even though I never got to the Tom Selleck moustache phase, I certainly didn’t mind not having to shave every day.