TOPICS: The daddy dilemma continues

Mirela Xanthaki

While more men are taking advantage of paternity leave or even quitting their jobs entirely to raise small children while their wives go to work, the social stigma attached to fathers who take on roles traditionally viewed as female has been far slower to diminish.

“There is the idea, particularly in American culture, that men are important based on how much money they make. Men should be at work, they should be earning money, that’s what they are supposed to do,” says Armin Brott, the author of six bestselling books on fatherhood and a founder of Fathers at Work, a business that helps men find a balance between work and home.

Paternity leave and the ability to work shorter hours and have more flexibility when children are young have been available to fathers in Scandinavia for several decades. In the rest of the world, and especially in the U.S., many men still rely on the goodwill of their employer to get the time off they want. There were an estimated 159,000 stay-at-home dads in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These married fathers with children younger than 15 have remained out of the labour force for more than one year, primarily so they can care for their family, while their wives earn a paycheque outside the home.

However, the total number of stay-at-home parents in the U.S. is 5.8 million indicating that the vast majority are mothers.

“Even in firms where 12 weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of unpaid leave are provided, keep in mind that these are offered on paper. The real issue is whether men feel they can take that much time off and whether they actually do in and significant numbers,” said Phoebe Taubman, a staff attorney at A Better Balance, a New York-based legal advocacy group that focuses on issues of work and family.

The number of men taking time off for family reasons does appear to be growing. According to a 2007 Flex-Time Lawyers and Working Mothers Magazine survey, 88 percent of the country’s top 50 firms offered an average of 4.6 weeks paid paternity leave. Last year, those numbers grew to 90 percent and an average of 5.8 weeks paid leave.

Only about 13 percent of companies in the U.S. offer paid paternity leaves, according to one estimate.

“Men are realising that they don’t want to do the kinds of things their dads and grandfathers and great grandfathers did. So much of men’s identity is tied up in our jobs, how much money we are making and what we do for a living, and a lot of people look back and say this isn’t particularly fulfilling, this isn’t helpful,” said Brot.

A survey done last year by A Better Balance with Generation Y (born after 1979) New York University law students showed that young men are just as worried about balancing work and family as their female classmates.

Ultimately, companies need to understand that by supporting father-friendly workplace policies, they end up with employees who are happier, stay at the company longer, and are more productive, Brott said.