What the heck is paternity leave?


I’ve been trying to answer this question. For Moms, even the most extreme position recognizes the demands of childbirth and the first few days and weeks of a young infant’s life. A more enlightened view recognizes that it isn’t just the first few days or weeks of an infant’s life that are demanding, but the first few months, if not a whole year (hello, my dear German friends!).

Paternity leave is a bit of a different story. Even in enlightened societies, it isn’t universally taken by Dads. When it is taken, I understand it is often shorter in duration than it is for women. In the U.S., many men take very little paternity leave–days. I took three weeks when my son was born, and that felt great. Those three weeks are amazing.

I am taking paternity leave, starting … well… soon! I’m not sure when—due dates are distributions! Katie’s is around six weeks from now. But, I plan to take six weeks entirely off, and then to use another four weeks to ease back into things (I’m especially going to prioritize working with students/mentoring during these four weeks, and anything else that was urgent but not attended to over the previous four weeks). It is an immensely privileged position, and I wrestle with that privilege. I’m so thankful for the support I have received at work to do this.

Should I take paternity leave? My thinking goes to the decisions one has to make when not able to take paternity leave. When baby isn’t asleep, who will stay awake, me or Katie? If we bottle feed, who will do it? Who will take on most of the … uh … wiping and goop cleaning? It would be easy—maybe vaguely understandable, or at least defensible—were I teaching the next morning to say, “not I”; or, were I to have an important meeting, to say, “can you do it?”.

I want to do it and I am so thankful to have the support and ability to stay up late, wipe the goops, and be there with and for Katie and baby. So, that is what the heck paternity leave is (just to me). I recognize that so far from all have the ability to take paternity leave and so I am especially thankful.