They're colloquially referred to as "daddy days."
The option of five to eight weeks of additional parental leave for the "other parent" becomes a reality March 17 as the new parental sharing benefit rolls out. The measure, which was announced in the 2018 federal budget, is for two-parent families (including adoptive and same-sex parents) who agree to share parental benefits.
It's intended to promote greater gender equality, Employment and Social Development Canada said in a news release last fall. Under the new program, the standard 35-week option extends to 40 weeks, and the extended 61-week options further extends to 69 weeks — with a 35-week and 61-week cap for either parent. In other words, use it or lose it.
The proportion of Canadian fathers outside of Quebec who claimed or intended to claim parental leave was just 11.9 per cent in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.
So, now that the opportunity is finally here, will more dads take advantage of it?
Watch: What to know about Canada's new shared parental leave. Story continues below.
They really should — for the good of themselves, their child, their partner, and even their career, Dr. Michael Kaufman, Toronto author of The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join The Gender Equality Revolution, told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.
"It establishes a life-long pattern of caregiving and nurturing. The father who takes parental leave develops much more quickly the confidence that there isn't a single job, other than breastfeeding, that he can't do well, and as well as a mother can do," Kaufman said.
"It's also important for that mother to know that their child is in good hands."
And the benefits extend into the work environment, Kaufman said. The empathy a new parent needs to understand why a baby might be crying or what it's feeling is transferrable, he added.
"In the workplace, this is about creating better male leaders, because they're going to become more responsive to other people's needs, they're going to become better listeners."
Men want to take the time off, but many aren't
Kaufman is currently working with Dove Men+Care to encourage men to take the time to change the conversation around paternity leave in Canada. In a 2018 survey of 1,530 Canadian men aged 25-54 commissioned by the initiative, 73 per cent of Canadian men say they believe men should take equal parental leaves as women. But spouses or partners of Canadian fathers take eight times more time off than men do.
What's holding men back? Money is a big part of it. Three-quarters of Canadian fathers or fathers-to-be in the study said they'd like to take more time off, but can't or couldn't afford it. Worry about how it might affect their careers is another factor. Half of Canadian fathers or fathers-to-be didn't feel comfortable asking their managers for more time off, and 28 per cent said they were afraid their co-workers would judge them.
Another study that compared Canadian and Finnish lawyers found that working in male-dominated professions may amplify these kinds of worries. Canadian male lawyers were more likely to use vacation time instead of paternity leave when their child was born.
Fathers who take on caregiving roles face more workplace harassment and mistreatment than "traditional" fathers and men without children, according to research from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. The harassment included "being derogated as insufficiently masculine," according to the study.
New shared parental leave could spark change
But this hesitancy to take parental leave could soon change, Kaufman said.
Quebec, which introduced an additional five weeks of non-transferrable parental leave for dads in 2006, saw a huge increase in the proportion of men who took leave (or intended to) afterward — from 27.8 per cent in 2005 to 85.8 per cent in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.
"It leads to a significant increase of fathers saying, 'This is right for me,'" Kaufman said.
Tips for dads considering going on leave
Kaufman encourages dads who are worried about the career impacts of taking parental leave to be strategic. Work on your pitch to your manager, even if it's your legal right to take the time off. If it's something that you want, tell your employer you'd like to stay in the loop on key decisions. And have a re-entry plan.
"The last thing a parent wants when they come back to work is to have to catch up on a month or six months of emails," Kaufman said.
Anticipate and prepare your response to family members who might question your decision, Kaufman said, adding that it's the responsibility of men to help educate older generations who didn't have parental leave.
And in terms of that whole parenting thing, Kaufman encourages men to take a parenting class if they're nervous, ask for help, join dad support groups, and know that — like any parent — you will make mistakes.
"Parenting is hard work. Change is hard work. We need to gear up for this challenge," Kaufman said.
But it's also an incredible opportunity, he added, and part of the gender equality revolution.
"Canadians — parents, and non-parents — should celebrate this."
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