More than 25 years ago, Ed Daizovi caused a bit of a stir at the Georgetown, Ky. automobile plant where he worked when he requested information about his company's paternity leave program leading up to the birth of his second daughter.
"We were far from family and didn't really have any support structure," Daizovi tells Yahoo Life. "I didn't want to leave my wife alone all day with a newborn as well as an 18-month-old who was still in diapers, so I did my best to find a mutually agreeable solution where I could get my work done and also support my wife and babies."
At the time, Daizovi says his employer had no paternity leave policy in place. And, although he offered to split his time between working in the office and from home, his managers refused. So Daizovi says he turned to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a program established by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1993 to grant family and temporary medical leave under certain circumstances.
"It wasn't very well known at the time, and after I informed my supervisor I would be taking it for the maximum amount of time — twelve weeks — he was stunned and off he went to human resources," Daizovi, who has since retired to Miramar, Fla., recalls. "Believe it or not, the HR rep informed me that I could not take FMLA because I was not a woman.
"I educated him on the law and explained that a father could use FMLA leave for the birth of a child, and the rest is history," he says.
Then and now
Paternity leave today is a bit more mainstream than it was in the '90s. Still, recent comments from Fox News political commentator Tucker Carlson about Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's paternity leave describing Buttigieg's four weeks of paid time off with his twins as "trying to figure out how to breastfeed" have some dads wondering if there's a lack of understanding about what paternity leave is all about.
When Burton Buffaloe and his husband, Dustin Smith, welcomed twins via surrogate five years ago, both dads took time off to adjust to life with their newborns.
"It was a time for us to form that bond of support for our babies and each other," Buffaloe says. "We took turns getting up in the middle of the night so we had more significant blocks of sleep. We shared all the duties and worked as a team. This was all new uncharted territory...[paternity leave] allowed us to feel grounded and build that foundation a healthy family requires."
But the Raleigh, N.C. couple's paternity leave began even before they brought their children home: They stayed by the bedside of their surrogate, who was hospitalized for two weeks on bed rest and then gave birth to their twins two weeks early. Their babies then spent two weeks in the hospital NICU.
"Many people imagine their paternity leave starts after the babies are born, but we had to juggle that leave to cover the time we spent in the hospital," says Buffaloe. "This was hard on our family because Dustin didn't have any paid leave since he was self-employed as a hairdresser. When he's not doing hair, he's not bringing home income."
Buffaloe says what got them through the stressful parts of those first weeks was acknowledging the bond being formed both with their babies and each other.
"We don't hear about how [paternity leave] creates this bond, not only with your child but also with your partner," he adds, "Seeing the other half of you in a new light allows your relationship to grow in unexpected ways. It's a beautiful thing that is priceless to a relationship."
Letting dads lead
Mercedes Thurber, a lawyer from Canada, and her husband, Matt, took advantage of a 2019 policy enacted by the Canadian government allowing the person who gives birth to a child to give three weeks of their maternity leave to their partner. Thurber explains the government then adds an additional five weeks to the partner's leave, giving the partner eight total paid weeks off.
"If I had not given him any portion of the parental leave and kept it for myself, then he would not have been able to access the additional five weeks," Thurber explains. "We assume this new policy on parental leave is the government trying to encourage men to take some of the parental leave, take on a caregiving role and help out more with child-rearing."
Thurber recently shared an Instagram post about her decision to give up time with her daughter, Eleanor, who turns 1 in November, saying, "sharing part of my maternity leave with him was a hard choice...in hindsight, the doubts were not necessary. He has hit the stay-at-home dad thing out of the park. It was probably the best decision we could have made as a family."
Thurber says she shared the post because she wanted women to know it's OK to let dads take on some of the work.
"It is definitely hard to give up some of that control and time, but having the help more than makes up for it," she says. "I also wish women knew how much joy it can bring to have your partner be the full-time caregiver — to see the bond between father and child develop and grow. The pure joy it has brought me seeing my husband and daughter's relationship grow has more than made up for the weeks of leave I lost."
Part of the partnership
When Doyin Richards took six weeks of paternity leave following each of his daughters' births, he was surprised by comments he received while out walking in the park or attending doctor appointments with his girls.
"I have to admit it was kind of funny at times because people in public would be like, 'Hey there, Mr. Mom,' or 'Well, I guess there's worse things to be doing other than taking care of your kid if you're unemployed.'" Richards recalls. "Seriously? People couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that dads can be elite caretakers of children, too."
Today, Richards' daughters are 8 and 10, and the Los Angeles, Calif. dad says he firmly believes his strong bond with his children stems from those early days of paternity leave. Still, even though he handled late-night feedings, diaper changes and mealtimes, Richards says his wife, Mariko, has never commented that his being home was particularly helpful.
"I didn't really expect her to, either," Richards admits. "This was part of the partnership...in my opinion, I share the same amount of parental responsibility as my wife, and that's the way it should be."
A different form of bonding
Catherine Pearlman is the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, and says whether a dad becomes a new parent through a birth, adoption or newly placed foster child, parenting is "a whirlwind that starts full force on day one."
"Taking time to bond as a family, get into a rhythm and learn some basic skills to take care of the baby or child is so helpful to gain confidence and comfort as a parent," Pearlman says. "Both parents make a commitment to raise a child, so both parents should be able to enjoy the initial bonding period when bringing that child home."
Pearlman says while it's important to remember not all parents have the luxury of being able to have both partners take time off work after the birth of a child, when possible, it can be a great experience.
"Bonding happens not by looking at a picture of the baby on a phone, but by holding, touching, feeding and changing the baby," she explains. "Bonding is increased the more access a parent has to the child, and fathers on paternity leave get a chance to do the simple but important acts of caring for their child."
Twenty-six years after his paternity leave, Ed Daizovi still has fond memories of his time with his wife and daughters.
"The things I remember most are holding my newborn, feeding her and singing to her," he says, "and also my playtime with Cecilia, who was a toddler. That is time I never would have had with my oldest — and it was all because I took the leave for my youngest."
What advice does Daizovi have for dads contemplating their own paternity leave?
"Take the leave," he says. "You will not only love it, but looking back on the situation after many years I guarantee you will never, ever regret it."
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