“Luck should not determine destiny,” James Gibson writes. With a line like that, you might think he’s a famous philosopher or a poet meditating on fate and humanity, but he’s not. He’s a dad from Clifton Park, New York, and he’s writing about paid family leave.
Gibson is one of several fathers who recently penned letters to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez about their experiences taking time off after the birth or adoption of a child. The letters and the stories they contain are all pretty different, but they have one big thing in common: these dads believe all dads should have the chance to stay home when a new child arrives, and that luck shouldn’t have anything to do with it.
Gibson’s story could have been heartbreaking, but luckily wasn’t, thanks to a federal policy called the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When he and his wife adopted their son, they discovered they each received only two weeks of paid leave to bond with and help their little boy adapt to a new life. It doesn’t take an expert to know that two weeks wasn’t going to be even remotely enough. Luckily (there’s that word again), both qualified for 12 weeks of unpaid time off under FMLA and had enough savings that they could scrape by. But that’s not how it should have to be. “Luck should not decide if you are able to bond with your child,” Gibson writes in his letter to Perez. “I am writing to you today because I cannot imagine what any new parent – adoptive or otherwise – would do if they cannot qualify for FMLA or don’t make enough income to cover unpaid leave.”
California dad Danny Contreras knows. He writes about his brother-in-law who didn’t take paternity leave. He “missed out on a lot of moments with his child. This time is an investment. It’s a time to connect and bond with your family – to create a positive, healthy relationship that you carry for the rest of your life,” Contreras says.
Bonding with a new baby is a crucial part of paternity leave, but it’s not the only part, Connecticut dad Isa Mujahid points out. It’s a time when other family members need extra care too — from moms recovering from delivery to older children who are adjusting to new family dynamics. “It was important for me to be there for [my wife] while she was there for our child – and allowed me to simultaneously wear my dad hat, husband hat and caretaker hat,” he writes. “Because I had paid leave, I was able to be there for [our older daughter] also – to help her adjust to the new family situation…” He knows his family was lucky he could be there to support them, but recognizes that many families in America can’t say the same.
That’s why it’s no surprise that every single one of these dads is supporting, and excited about, the increasing momentum around paid family leave in our country right now. New York recently passed the most progressive paid family leave law in the United States, giving workers 12 weeks of paid time off to bond with a new child. In doing so, it became the fifth state to create its own paid family leave program. But last time I checked, there are 45 other states in this country, and we can’t leave those parents behind. That’s why, here at Make It Work, we’re pushing for 12 weeks of paid time off for all workers in America, moms and dads.
I think that’s a solution the dads who wrote to Secretary Perez would get behind. You don’t want to miss their stories and why they think it’s desperately time for a change. Dads need to be able to stay home with new kids, and everyone, lucky or not, should get that opportunity.