Photo: Tyler Wade
After wiping the vomit from my shirt and pulling up my pants from the incessant tugging for attention, I reach into the fridge to grab formula. #FedIsBest, right? I’m home alone with my 11-month-old daughter and sick-from-daycare three-year-old son.
I’m careful to not spill any hot water on my eldest and not let my youngest, who is wriggling in my arms, touch the kettle. I pour the water, balance the temperature with ice and find the closest chair to collapse in to address the most immediate crisis with a bottle.
I turn my gaze to my son, who is the source of the incessant tugging: “Yes, Ben, how can I help you?”
“I have to poo.”
“Go then, buddy! You can do it!”
He looks at me with puppy dog eyes, his hand holding his bum. “I need you to carry me!” he says. I make it to the top of the stairs, both kids in tow. But when I put him down, he looks at me sadly. “It’s too late,” he says. Just then, my daughter’s fart tells me that I now have two poops to clean.
I sigh and imagine my wife kicking back in an ergonomic office chair, laughing and sipping freshly made coffee with her smart co-workers. “Only four more hours,” I mutter to myself.
And yet, I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I am incredibly fortunate to get to raise my two kids. I may grumble, but I complain about work, commutes and bosses, too. Raising children is an opportunity granted. My one month of paternity leave with each kid taught me an awful lot about them, myself and what it takes to raise a family and carry the mental load of the household.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead a much more fulfilled life. These intimate moments can’t be bought. In parenting, good kids take years of investment and, unless you’re fully involved, you can never understand why generosity and gratitude are the best rewards of all. I could be wrong (my kids are still young), but I’m convinced that my priorities are in order: For everyone’s benefit, work comes after kids.
I don’t sit idly by, waiting to be asked to complete tasks—I am aware of them and I do them. I’m a better father because I know my kids’ schedules and actually experience their activities with them. I’m a better husband because I know how to empty the Diaper Genie when it’s full.
Despite the “modern” man, the “career” woman and the shortening bridge of the gender gap, there remain some hard-fought struggles in paternity leave. The hard truth is, only nine percent of dads across Canada take any paternity leave. That’s abysmally low. There are 17 weeks dedicated to a mother’s recovery, but the remaining 35 weeks of leave can be split between partners, no matter what their gender. Typically, mothers say “It’s my time” or “I’ve earned this,” leaving fathers with “Well, I guess so” or “My boss wouldn’t let me.”
We need to be better than this.
It’s about parents’ time: You’ve both earned this, and your boss, by law, must accept. I worked for an American company and the vice-president was flabbergasted by my request (the United States is the only wealthy nation in the world that doesn’t offer some guaranteed paid time off and musters a mere six to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the mother’s recovery). I explained the rules in Ontario and, despite his resistance, I was able to take it. But sadly, I don’t think he understood its importance.
How can we break down gender stereotypes if they don’t start at home? We are our kids’ role models. In Sweden, of the 480 days of parental leave offered, 90 days are reserved just for dads (who often take more), which has led to a big societal shift. In 1995, after Sweden granted a “daddy month,” men started to take more responsibility for child-rearing. As a result, women have seen both their incomes and levels of self-reported happiness increase. A 2010 study from the University of Oslo in Norway found that kids whose fathers take paternity leave get better grades. The divorce rate also goes down when parents share household chores, play and read more to their kids. All of the data is linked to positive results. In Quebec, 87 percent of dads take parental leave. “La belle province” pulled out of the federally funded employment insurance program and started its own with a use-it-or-lose-it, “daddy-only” five-week program. Dads are jumping on board, and the results are positive for kids.
I want to be a well-rounded parent, not fill a two-hour time slot before bed. After my paternity leave, I found that my wife and I communicate better. In practical terms, that means that we can occasionally take turns, put ourselves first and go to the gym while the other takes care of the kids at home alone. We both have careers, our kids have school, and we all have our activities. It’s interchangeable and flexible. We are both so appreciative of each other—and the heavy lifting that each of us does—that “thank you” and “please” come naturally. And the best part? Our kids see respect in action and follow our example.
Equal rights begin at home with equal parenting, and it all starts with pat leave.