Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

A Father’s Day gift that keeps giving

By Ellen Bravo and Stewart D. Friedman

Dad and daughter.

Policies such as family and medical leave programs and earned sick days make it easier for fathers to bear their responsibilities.

On this Father’s Day, too many fathers have to choose between the family they love and the job they need. That’s a choice no one should ever have to make.

If we want Father’s Day to be more than a Hallmark holiday, we need to become a nation that truly honors fathers — by making sure their workplaces welcome their parenting role. Our social policies must evolve so that our espoused values — that we care about families — catch up to the new reality that women are in the workforce outside the home and men want to have rich lives outside of work. Working moms need help from their mates, working dads have a paternal need and desire to be with their children, and our children — the unseen stakeholders at work — need the love and attention of their parents.

The two of us have spent a lot of time helping working fathers find ways to have both fruitful work lives and fulfilling family lives. We’re both concerned about the statistics on how little time men spend with their new babies — usually a week or less. And we’re both parents of sons whom, we hope, will someday be able to be fathers who are as engaged as their spouses in their children’s lives, the glorious moments and the mundane ones.

Study after study of young men finds that the new generation of working fathers wants the kind of workplace options for which working mothers have been clamoring for decades. We know that many more men would be able to be the kind of involved fathers (and sons, and husbands) they want to be if they weren’t punished for it on the job.

We may seem like an odd pair — a management professor and a grassroots organizer — to be writing about the need for affordable family leave. But this is an issue that should garner support across the spectrum. This is an area where the moral imperative — the greater good — braids beautifully with the bottom line, as well as saving taxpayer dollars. We can all come together on making time with family available and affordable.

The truth is, only 11% of U.S. employees have paid family leave from their employers. The one public policy that covers time off to care for new children, the Family and Medical Leave Act, excludes two-fifths of the workforce.

On Father’s Day we urge more workplaces to step up to the plate to offer paid paternity leave, actively encourage men to take it, and offer flexible schedules. We’ve seen the results at many companies that know that real leaders have real lives and, paradoxically, when men and women are allowed to spend time on what matters most to them, they are able to be more effective and productive economically at work.

Too often those who manage these policies inform men about the leave they’re eligible for, but then directly or indirectly question their dedication and commitment to the firm if they actually use it – or expect them to be on call while caring for a newborn.

We also need public policy changes, to expand who’s eligible for FMLA and to make it affordable. Family and medical leave insurance funds like the ones established in California and New Jersey, where employees pay a small amount into an insurance pool and can then draw wages while they’re out on leave, would make a huge difference in the lives of parents and children.

Research shows us that a program like this increases men’s role in caregiving by making it possible for them to be involved without the family taking a big financial hit. In California, for example, fathers’ leave-taking for bonding with a new child rose 12% from 2011 to 2012.

Every child gets routine ailments like stomach flu and pink eye — ailments that schools and child care centers cannot accommodate, but are not covered by the FMLA. Right now, about 40% of workers in the private sector do not earn paid time off when they or a child is sick.

Instead of punishing working fathers, more employers should welcome and embrace men in their dual roles as financial providers and engaged presence in the home.

This Sunday as we celebrate all the wonderful and remarkable fathers across the nation, let us honor those fathers by expanding the ways in which public policy can support families across the board. Policies like family and medical leave insurance programs and earned sick days will make it easier for all fathers to shoulder not just the financial responsibilities of a family but also the day-to-day caring for loved ones when they need it.

We encourage lawmakers and employers to consider a gift fathers will never forget — affordable time to be good fathers.

Ellen Bravo is director of Family Values @ Work Consortium. Stewart D. Friedman is the practice professor of management and director of the Work/Life Integration Project at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

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