Opinion | Why Some Dads Don’t Take Leave: They Think They’ll Be Punished

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By Jessica Grose

Opinion Writer

I asked men to start shouting about the need for paid family leave two weeks ago, and over 500 people responded with their stories. Since then, the Biden administration’s social spending bill, which includes a provision for four weeks of paid family and medical leave — not exactly robust but better than nothing — passed in the House on Friday, though the fate of the bill, and that specific provision, in the Senate isn’t certain.

Men who had access to a month or more of paid leave said it allowed them to really learn how to be dads in a practical way and to really bond with their children. They also talked about how their partnerships strengthened when they had time to learn to parent together.

Men who didn’t have access to paid leave or who had very short breaks talked about how difficult, even painful, it was. Chris Osterlund, 32, who lives in Virginia, said that when his son was born, he took only two weeks and that the company he worked for at the time was not particularly supportive of dads taking long leaves. The sleep deprivation of a new baby made it difficult for Osterlund to function, and it led to disengagement at his job and tension with his spouse. “I never felt like I had the buoyancy to think clearly about how to change what became a dark period in our marriage. Whatever the reason, I regret not being home and have carried that shame for almost three years.”

In a 2019 piece for The Times, Nathaniel Popper explained that while only a small percentage of American fathers get access to paid leave, even those with access do not take full advantage of it. That’s because “some studies do show that taking paternity leave can damage a man’s professional reputation and affect his future earning potential,” he wrote.

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