Tangent: Being there to help

It’s been a bit quiet here for the past month since SAA ended, but not without good reason.  On the Friday after the conference, just past noon, my amazing partner gave birth to our beautiful daughter and a whole new chapter of my life began. Sleep now comes in two-hour blocks, and weekends and weekdays blur together as we fall under the thrall of the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen. That it’s actually been a month since she entered the world seems utterly inconceivable.

As I’m still doing the post-graduation job hunt, I’ve been on a sort of de facto paternity leave this whole time. I chauffeur to doctor’s appointments, make quick runs to the store, change the diapers, pepper the pediatricians with questions over the phone…

It’s been exhausting.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because I’m there. Not just for my partner, but for my daughter. I get to learn every nuance of her ever-changing personality and marvel at the incremental development of her body and motor skills.  I work with my partner to try and understand the sleep and feeding whims of a one-month old- a true exercise in frustration. But, cliche as it sounds, there’s no place I’d rather have been for the last month.

I know that really there’s no better time for me to be unemployed so that I can spend this sort of time. But thinking about it that way has gotten me really angry- why can’t every new dad have this level of experience? There’s a quote in this NPR article that sums up the sad truth- “In the U.S., paternity leave is a luxury.” The stigma is strong against dads taking the time, and workplace policy will tend to reflect that. Even for the very rich- think of Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos, two well-paid baseball players who took a good amount of flack earlier this year for taking off just a few days from their jobs which consist of playing a game. If a guy whose office is a baseball field takes heat for taking paternity leave, what chance does a cubicle dweller have? How many men are willing to risk the scorn of their boss by taking a month off, even if it’s provided for in their benefits?

There’s a flip side to this of course. As the Times pointed out a few weeks ago, men actually benefit career-wise from having a child, while women pay steep penalties. And again it comes down to perceptions- that men become more focused on providing for family while women become more distracted as caregivers. Which is poppycock.

Lest we think that archives and academia are immune to this sort of thinking, there’s a great post by Meghan Lyon over at Chaos —-> Order that shows we’re perhaps not quite as progressive a profession as we could be in this area.

We need to argue that paid family leave is a vital benefit, not an oddity or radical idea. And if there is an option of paid leave available, men need to take full advantage of it. As with any benefit, if no one uses it, employers will see no reason to continue offering it. And the more men who take paternity leave for that first month, the quicker we start to erase this ridiculous Mad Men era stigma around caring about your kids and your partner. (I use “men” here to match my own experience, but the same should go for any parent, regardless of gender) The fact is, caring for a newborn is hard work- why shouldn’t we be there to help as much as we can?

There’s more I can say here, but my coffee cup is empty. I’m curious to hear from other men in libraries and archives- have your employers offered paid leave? Did you take advantage?

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