On Career, Fatherhood & Parental Leave

When my wife became pregnant with our third child, I’d just ‘officially’ graduated with my Master’s degree and was working on casual contract for the Government of Canada. A few months later, I became a permanent (‘indeterminate’) employee, and among the benefits I was eligible to receive was Parental Leave Without Pay. Admittedly, this sounded like a bit of a non-benefit until I read my Collective Agreement which also defines Parental Allowance: a second benefit automatically granted to those who qualify for Parental Leave Without Pay.

Basically, between the income replacement that one is entitled to from Employment Insurance and the employee benefits paid out under the terms of the Agreement, an indeterminate employee can stay home to raise their baby at nearly full pay (93%) for one year (2 Weeks Waiting Period + 18 Weeks Maternity Benefit + 32 Weeks Parental Benefit).

Now as the father, I wasn’t entitled to any Maternity Benefit — my wife could take that — but the 32 weeks… 8 months away from work… well, maybe I could take that…

…provided I could get past the psychological hurdles, of course. What kind of man takes 8 months off of work at the beginning of his public service career?

I’d never been in any financial position to entertain such a question before.

I took 2 weeks away from work for the birth of my first child, and three weeks for the second. The extra week the second time around was to provide extra care. My second was born with Jaundice, and needed near-constant phototherapy for the first nine days of her life by remaining wrapped in a biliblanket.

8 months?

I love my children; my children love me. But I’m the sort of person that needs to remain engaged. After two weeks of R&R, I’m ready to abort my vacation and get back to my desk. I crave mental stimulation. I need structure. As much as I should probably feel ashamed for my lack of evolution, I am a man first and a social worker second. My sense of self is largely tied to my attachment to work. My importance is in what I create. My value is in the income I am able to provide for my family.

But I created this child. And the benefits will allow me to provide for my family.

With much urging from my wife, I took the 8 months.

I wish I had the right words to express how great it was.

Not idyllic, by any means. A lot of work; worries; weird hours; exhaustion; exasperation when nothing worked. But also immense joy; attachment; love; connection like I never believed I could feel. And tangible response from my baby; recognition; pleasure from my presence; anxiety from my departure.

8 months went entirely too quickly. For those last 2 weeks, I held her constantly.

I thought I’d been a good father to my first two children. I’d taken as much time as I could afford, to be there as they entered the world. But in retrospect I was something of a stranger to them, and they to me. It bothered me enormously that they seemed more curious than pleased to see me return home at the end of the day. I was often beside myself with frustration for my inability to calm them when they were hurt or distressed. Nothing I could do had anything near the effect of my wife simply reaching down and picking them up.

My baby will be 22 months old soon. For some time now — for as long as she’s been able to, really — she has come running to see me when I arrive home from work. Perhaps it’s better described as high-speed toddling, but more often than not she beats her 4 year old sister to the door.

Even after I’m settled in for the night, in between her adventures with her pets and her older sisters, she’ll come back to me with arms outstretched, “Da da! Up!” insistent that I hold her immediately.

I credit the baby for ‘teaching’ her older sister that these are good practices. Not long after the daily return-from-work ritual began, my 4 year old also started racing to the door to get her own turn at being swept off her feet and kissed soundly.

I loved those 8 months. They meant everything to me, and really showed me what they can mean to a newborn. If there was any effect on my career prospects or my reputation, I can’t tell.

If you’ve taken parental leave from your govjob, or just have something to share on the subject, I’d love to read your comments.

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Nichole Henley

Speechless. Absolutely speechless. I am so overwhelmed with joy for you and your ability to articulate what I’m trying to describe to folks who may appear against paid maternity/paternity leave. This is EXACTLY how I feel about it. I was able to take my 12 weeks under FMLA where I remained engaged at work (had to and wanted to) and it meant the world to me to be at home with my son. I was able to use up all of my leave (5 weeks), receive 3 weeks of donated leave, and a little over a month of leave without pay to accomplish this. It wasn’t without worry or struggle but worth every minute. THANKS FOR SHARING!!!! Kudos for being such a great father AND HUSBAND!!!

Philip L. Hoffman

My oldest (now 14) was born when I started the final push to finish my M.S. thesis research. I stayed home with her three days a week, and wrote when she slept, working 10 hours a day the other two. That lasted until she was 1, when I finished and went back to work full time. My second daughter, now 12, benefitted from a year of her mom staying home with her, but I had to work two jobs, and so missed so many important things. Untilmately, for a variety of reasons, we divorced.

Flash forward to 2009, and my second wife and I welcome another daughter. I took my available 6 weeks off – my wife took four months – and i now rise every day at 0530 to get to work at 7 so I can pick Peanut up from daycare at 4. She and play together for a couple of hours until mom gets home and we have dinner. Then its off to pajamas, stories, and bed – which is also my territory.

While the divorce has put one kind of block between me and the older two, my oldest and I get along better then the middle daughter. the youngest doesn’t wnat me out of her sight when I bring her home – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Jobs come and go. Whole carers an end in an instant. the unbridled love of a little child can too easily be crushed for a simple lack of attention.

So go home early. Put away the Crackberry. Forget the laptop. There’s a world of crayons, park swings, scooters, rolling on the floor, and yes, dirty diapers that await you as a father. Man up and show up – it willmean more to you then words can ever describe.

Keya Briscoe

It seems very interesting to stumble on to this blog as I am 7 months pregnant and newly married. My husband and I have had various conversations pertaining to the length of time that I should saty home with the baby. I had someone say the other day, ” I know you cant wait until it is over. ” My answer, I am savoring every minute of this miracle. I have a GREAT career but this baby that I am carrying already means the world to me and I want to enjoy every minute of it. I diubt if I will be able to 8 months but I will try to be out with my little Kendall as long as possible.

Adriel Hampton

Great story, Todd. City of San Francisco has very generous parental leave policies, and I took three months off for my second son. He was born very six and was in the hospital for his first three weeks. I was so grateful to not have to worry about providing financially for the family at that time and being able to really take care of him.

Bryan Conway JD, PMP

8 months off for parental leave is possibly beyond my comprehension! I took about 4 weeks off (with a laptop to check in periodically) when my son was born a few years ago (all my own earned leave), and loved every moment of it – what’s not to love?
But I was hired by my employer to perform a job, which is not baby care. Don’t get me wrong, Todd, I’m certainly not criticizing anyone for using the benefits that are available to them, and I know that Canadians have a more liberal view on benefits than Americans do! However, when I’m not at work, someone else has to do my job, which means my team has to find the time to squeeze in an additional 40-50 hours of work each week to cover me, on top of their own sizable workloads. I think it is great to take time off to be with the new baby and help mom, but my coworkers shouldn’t have to be disadvantaged for a long period because I made a voluntary decision to bring a baby into the world!
Sorry, perhaps my dad’s “old school” work ethic may have had too much influence on me and hopelessly tainted my perception of these matters! I realize that my point of view is probably not shared by a majority of government employees – but then again, I am hoping that the purpose of interacting on Govloop is to share opinions and different points of view!

Peter Sperry

It is a question of alternative and priorities. A private sector business has a choice between putting money into an employee or a broadbased index fund. The index fund can be expected to provide at least a 4 perecent return on investment. To match this the employee needs to generate value equal to (their salary + benefits)*1.04. If the emplyee generates sufficient value, providing benefits such as parental leave become nothing more than an easily justified cost of doing business, If they do not, the employer needs to have a talk with the employee and reexamine how the business invests its available resources.

Government organizations can use their resources to hire emplloyees or to hire contractors. In general, employees cost more in terms of salary and long term benefits but are believed to produce better quality services and provide greater long term return on investment. Again, if this is accurate, benefits are just a cost of doing business. If it is not accurate, than government managers need to reexamine their hiring practices.

An organization that sees long term value in an employee will be willing to provide benefits such as parental leave in order to retain the asset. If the employee is not demonstrating long term potential, than the cost of thier base salary might be as much of an issue as any benefits they may ask for.

Nichole Henley

I love that perspective, Peter!

“If the employee is not demonstrating long term potential, than the cost of thier base salary might be as much of an issue as any benefits they may ask for

Spencer W. Clark

My first child is almost 9 months old and I now I’m trying to contemplate what it would be like if I had been off for 8 months and was just NOW going back to work. Incredible!

I really value time and interaction with my son, and thanks to switching to part-time at work while I’m doing my Master’s degree, I have been able to spend a bit more time at home than would have otherwise been suggested by the mere few weeks I took off after his birth. Balancing outside obligations from work, school and church along with family has not always resulted in my having as much time at home as I’d like, but I believe that it absolutely makes a difference. My son’s face lights up when I come in the door, or if he wakes up and I’m there, and we get myriad compliments on his very good temperament.

The government in particular should have an eye toward the future and societal well-being. I believe that helping parents have more time with their children in the very formative early months would benefit both parties and help produce more productive future workers and better members of society. It’s difficult to measure that long-term investment, but I think the benefits help justify the cost. With greater health and living longer, I think our generation will (and should) be expected to work longer – and perhaps extending benefits could be linked to needed increases in the retirement age. I, for one, would willingly put in a few extra months of work in my 60’s for a few months off in my 20’s to be with my new baby.