Dads

Yahoo's long paternity leave unrealistic, some dads say

May 1, 2013 at 6:19 PM ET

The eight weeks of paid paternity leave that Yahoo male employees now receive, thanks to the company’s generous new policy, makes plenty of dads envious of all that time for bonding with baby.

Yet for many dads, the lengthy time the company is offering seems too good to be true, and maybe even unrealistic. Because while it would be a dream to have a guilt-free two month leave from work, many say they feel pressure – whether self-inflicted or external -- to get back to work.

“That’s nuts,” Matt McCain of Woodinville, Wash., says of the Yahoo policy. But McCain, a father of two who took a month off after both of his kids were born, says that if his company offered eight weeks leave, he would only consider taking that chunk of time off if it could be split up over time and not have to be taken consecutively.

“I wouldn’t take it all at once,” says McCain, creative director at Seattle advertising agency Wongdoody. “I know that after a month, most guys are ready to get back to the work routine.”

McCain was thankful to be of help to his wife, who had difficult recoveries due to cesarean sections. He says that while he thinks some guys can be “guilt-driven” during leave, he was able to disconnect for the entire month he was off, and cites his company’s family-friendly environment for being able to do so. “I felt no pressure to get back, but could see that happening in places that are more cut-throat.”

And while he says his overall paternity leave was a positive time where he bonded with his kids, he’d do it differently. He knows of co-workers who delayed their leave for when the baby was older, an idea he thinks is great.

“The babies in their first month, they just kind of lay there. Three months in, you get much more give and take with them,” he said. “If I knew then what I know now, I might have split it up. Make it more fun.”

Jane Waldfogel, an expert on family leave at the Compton Foundation Centennial Professor of Social Work at Columbia University, says that “the typical American father takes a week or two of leave.”

“That’s obviously quite short, considering that all evidence shows that if a father takes leave in the early weeks and months of a baby’s life, he’s more likely to become a partner in the child’s care,” Waldfogel says.

Odin Zackman of Berkeley, Calif., recently took five weeks of leave from his job to bond with his wife Mara and infant son Noah.

“Our midwife was very clear to us. ‘Mara, you feed the baby -- that is your responsibility. Odin, you do everything else.’ I was the diaper dude, the king of swaddle. I taught Mara how to do all that stuff,” he says.

But Zackman says he knows his case is unique because he runs his own management consulting business. He’s the only employee so he set his own paternity leave policy. That said, he gave business partners and vendors “full disclosure” so they knew months in advance that he was taking time off.

“I could have taken a bit longer, but I was definitely ready to get back to focusing on work,” he said, adding that working with sleep deprivation has taken a bit of getting used to.

Flexible work environments and paternity leaves, of course, only come with certain territories. There are plenty of other job industries that just aren’t conducive.

Bill Yu, a partner in a Chicago law firm, says he isn’t even sure what his firm’s paternity benefits are, but says an official policy doesn’t matter to him because since his work hours are flexible, he wouldn’t use paternity leave. “Our industry is based on the billable hour. If you miss some time for vacation or having a baby, you make it up later.”

When Yu’s first child, age 4, was born, he took some time off but recalls he still worked at night and when the baby was sleeping. When his second, age 2, was born, he didn’t take any time off. “We kind of knew what we were doing with the second one,” he says, adding that his wife also works so they have child care help from a nanny and relatives.

While there is some belief that bosses can play a large role in whether a new dad feels comfortable taking all of the leave they are allotted, Waldfogel says employers are becoming more used to men taking some kind of leave.

“One important thing to keep in mind about both paternity and maternity leave is that these are pretty rare events in the life of a worker,” she says. “A typical family has just two children so that means a father or mother being out on parental leave only a few times during their entire career. And, the leaves involved are still quite short.”

For McCain, the Seattle advertising executive, having understanding bosses makes all the difference.

“[My bosses] are dads. They want employees with happy families – it’s a big part of working here,” says McCain, who has been at the agency for 13 years. “That has kept me around. I get a good work-life balance.”

Linda Carroll contributed to this report.

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