Dads Should Take Advantage Of New Parental Leave Opportunity

The bonding and attachment possibilities are enormous; the pay-off to children and families is incredible
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By Brian Russell

My first daughter was born in 1996 (two others followed within the next four years). That was the year of my coming of age as a father. It was before much of the conversation around a father's involvement had hit the social consciousness. It was before I was giving much thought to the role and experience of fatherhood.

It wasn't really that long ago, just over two decades, that the men becoming fathers commonly held to what we now call "traditional" fatherhood roles — provide and discipline.

I was one of those men. In my early years of parenting, I saw my role as supporting my wife, bringing home a paycheque, and making sure the leak in the roof of our house (among other things) got fixed. I did spend a lot of time alone with my daughter, though, because my job was a contract and my wife went to work while I stayed home for four months of that first year. That was before fathers could take a share of the parental leave, when mothers were assumed to be the primary caregiver, and when fatherhood was mocked and chided in the media.

So I think back to my early father days with fondness and appreciation that I held her, changed many diapers, made sure she was fed, read to, bathed, and to bed on time. That was a time when new dads were beginning to have new expectations and opportunities. Things were beginning to change. But that year I wore a "new dad" t-shirt that, looking back now, I probably would not have worn. It was a cartoon that showed a dad changing a diaper on the dog while his child's face was in the dog dish and the dad's attention was on the football game on the TV.

Is the "new" new dad really a clueless, inattentive dad?

I don't think so.

In many ways, I don't think that the majority of "older, more traditional" new dads were clueless and inattentive either. My dad wasn't. I think the portrayals of fatherhood in the past have reinforced these kinds of stereotypes. Has any era of fatherhood been perfect? Probably not. It is interesting hearing many people my age and older speaking of fondness for their fathers.

But in Canada, we are about to embark on a new trajectory for new dads. A new program in the parental leave system (beginning Mar 17, 2019) will provide two-parent families with five weeks of "use-it-or-lose-it" leave for the second parent. This will give dad the opportunity to be at home with his family for more time during that crucial first year of child development. The bonding and attachment possibilities are enormous; the pay-off to children and families is incredible.

This new leave structure does a couple things: it shows there is a change in the social fabric of parenting in Canada. Fathers are acknowledged at the level of primary carer that they need to be at. It also gives fathers the time and experience with their babies that many are longing for more of. And it reflects that consistent, engaged parenting by BOTH parents, from the beginning, benefits the development of children.

I hope that many dads in Canada make use of this.

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