Dads

Take it from new dad Craig Melvin: Paternity leave conversation 'long overdue'

April 4, 2014 at 10:03 AM ET

NBC News correspondent Craig Melvin and his newborn son.
Courtesy of Craig Melvin
NBC News correspondent Craig Melvin and his newborn son.

The back and forth that started on New York city sports radio stations earlier this week has triggered a long overdue conversation, not merely about the lopsided work-life balance in this country, but an even more significant discussion about the changing role of men and fathers.

I know, right? Typically when we talk about roles evolving, we're talking about women. As I listened and watched the clips from the hosts and callers criticizing Daniel Murphy for taking two days of paternity leave to spend time with his newborn son, I thought, "Really, guys still think like this?"

Video: Mets star Daniel Murphy, who missed the season’s first two games this week to attend the birth of his first child, sparked a heated discussion about paternity leave after his decision didn’t sit well some sportscasters. NBC’s Craig Melvin reports.

Later in the day when the backlash to the ridiculous comments started, my faith in humanity was restored. Nearly everyone in this space who responded to an online poll sided with Daniel Murphy.

My perspective is unique. My new boy is 25 days old.

On the same night I found out I was going from barely able to take care of myself to being 50 percent responsible for a child, my wife and I talked rather quickly about how much time we'd both take off from work.

Lindsay Czarniak
Courtesy of Craig Melvin
Melvin's wife Lindsay Czarniak with their son, Delano.

We welcomed Delano Joseph Melvin on March 10th at 6:36 in the morning. At almost four weeks, he spends his days and nights eating like he's in a contest and screaming at us when the food doesn't come fast enough or his diaper has changed color.

Our parent company, Comcast, provides two weeks of paid paternity leave. I added a few vacation days and was gone for nearly three weeks.

I wouldn't have traded it for anything, but that wasn't nearly enough time to bond with my new son, help change those diapers, feed, stare at him — at least that's what I thought...until I started doing some reading and realized I was one of the fortunate few.

Melvin with his new baby.
Courtesy of Craig Melvin
Melvin with his new baby.

Yes, we have the Family Medical Leave Act, which forces medium and large companies to HOLD your job while you take up to 12 weeks of leave, but it doesn't guarantee pay.

According to the department of labor statistics, about 11.5 % of workplaces in this country provide paid leave for their employees.

The percentage providing paid leave to fathers is even more laughable and we should probably be concerned, as a country, about the company we're keeping. Among the 62 countries where paternity leave is required by law: our friends in Russia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Colombia, and Guatemala.

Delano Joseph Melvin.
Courtesy of Craig Melvin
Delano Joseph Melvin.

Realizing the federal government rarely takes the lead on anything, California stepped up in 2002 and became the first state to guarantee six weeks of paid leave for mothers and fathers.

Letting all those people leave work will tank state economies. Small businesses can't afford it. Blah. Blah. Blah.

They've done it out West and used a relatively small payroll tax contribution to pay for a better work-life balance. California didn't go broke doing it and neither has New Jersey or Rhode Island, which have similar plans.

Melvin and Czarniak with their son.
Courtesy of Craig Melvin
Melvin and Czarniak with their son.

The research extolling the virtues of paternity leave is extensive. The most recent and widely cited study came out last year, and was titled "Children's Chances."

It concluded what many parents already knew: "When fathers take leave during infancy they are more likely to be involved in their children's lives down the road."

While some contend government's role is already outsized and even a modest few-cents-per-pay-period payroll tax would be too much, I would argue a modest investment that encourages fathers to start off on the right foot is a more than worthwhile investment, considering we all pick up the tab down the road when children whose fathers weren't there start growing up. 

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