September 28th, 2023


New Responsibilities for the Gander

Suzanne Fields

By Suzanne Fields

Published June 14, 2019

Bonding with a newborn baby isn't just women's work any longer. Men now say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." Fathers want in on parental leave.

New daddies have no tell-tale stretch marks or breasts overflowing with warm milk, but it's a sign of the times that increasing numbers of them demand paternity leave to spend as much time with their newborn son or daughter as the baby's mom (as practically difficult as that may be).

They're calling it an equal rights issue, and support is coming from surprising people in surprising places, including Republicans and the banking industry with, it must be said, an "assist" from the courts.

The issue was given a powerful Daddy's Day push when JP Morgan Chase, the banking behemoth, said it would pay $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of male employees for them to enjoy the same access to parental leave as new mothers.

Given the size and scope of this settlement, the impact may be more far-reaching than earlier legal fights when gander wanted what the goose was having.

Such demands would have been mocked by men of our grandfathers' generation, for whom changing a diaper was de-masculinizing. The times they have changed. Not only do more mothers work outside the house; they also demand more from fathers inside the house. Gender-neutral parental policies are suddenly said to be good for mom, the baby and business, too.

Parental leave is something that many businesses have found to be helpful for recruiting and maintaining qualified men and women in the era of the two-paycheck family, but it reduces staff churn as well. Staff turnover at office or factory is costly and disruptive.

Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and adviser, makes parental leave one of her causes. She's a mother of three, and her wealth has not burdened her with the child care problems men and women of lesser means confront. Nevertheless, she knows firsthand the intensive, as well as loving, demands required of both parents when a new baby arrives. New research supports what used to be merely observation. When both loving parents are involved, babies thrive.

So powerful is nature that a belief that was once an old wives' tale took hold: that the face of a newborn baby resembles the father. Now researchers say that's not necessarily so, however reassuring it may be to dear old Dad. "Independent of whether the baby actually looks like Dad is the perception that the baby shares resemblance with Dad," evolutionary psychologist Steven Platek, who studies the issue, tells The Atlantic magazine.

What nature doesn't confirm absolutely Congress can encourage, which is why prominent Republican senators like Marco Rubio, Joni Ernst, Mike Lee and Bill Cassidy are behind what they see as a winning issue, supporting the nurture of newborns through paid parental leave.

Sen. Rubio's plan, introduced in March, enables new parents to exchange a three- to six-month delay in receiving prospective Social Security payments for parental leave, or reduced Social Security payments later. "This is an approach that provides people an option to utilize their own benefits by pulling them forward and to do so without growing government," he says.

Joni Ernst and Mike Lee prefer their CRADLE Act — "Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment" — which also uses Social Security funds but provides even stronger incentives for parents to spend time at home with the child. Democrats say it's unfair to choose between retirement benefits and family leave; they prefer a payroll tax funding up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Naturally, all the numbers at this point are fuzzy, but it's quite remarkable that some Republicans and Democrats can even see the potential for compromise on behalf of an issue that was once as polarizing as today's politics. Sen. Rubio thinks his approach, while far from perfect, has a chance of becoming law, which no government-mandated program does. He, like the other senators, makes the point that the United States is the only country that has no paid parental leave.

Several new children's books put daddy at center stage with a young daughter and son, assuming changes in attitude toward daddy's responsibilities. No kiss goodbye at the door when he goes off to work. Instead, Daddy's a one-man playground, a mountain to climb, a horsey to ride, even a construction crane scooping up baby in his powerful cradle. These fathers get to build castles in the sand rather than storm the beaches.

Like everything else, the father-child relationship is determined by many things, including when and where you're born on the timeline of history. Happy Father's Day.

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