Helping Dads Take Parental Leave, With Gratitude to Santa Clara

Katrin Bennhold recently wrote a tantalizing snapshot in the New York Times of Sweden's success in encouraging fathers to take leave from work to care for children. In the process, it seems, masculinity itself undergoes revision. Sweden is not alone in paying men to take time off to be with their young families; Bennhold gives some interesting brief comparisons to progressive policies in Iceland and Germany. Here in the United States, it seems, we are significantly behind, and there are any number of ways that we could register the social, psychological and spiritual costs of the lack of active presence of fathers in early childhood. 

Among other constituencies desiring and enacting a redefinition of work-life balance and masculinity, my cohort of middle-class educated men born in the 1960s and 1970s also seems to want to change things. I would wager that as time goes by, we will help move U.S. policy and practice toward greater social latitude for fathers to be good fathers. I remember a conversation at a faculty seminar in a Catholic university less than a decade ago, in which a few faculty stated with evident marvel that some of the younger male professors simply got up and left meetings when they needed to go pick up their kids from school or activities.


In recent years, a new respect for work-life balance has slowly been taking over in many academic contexts. Even the American Academy of Religion, the umbrella professional organization in North America for the scholarly study of religion, has begun to turn its attention to this, as evident in recent offerings at its Annual Meeting. I do not think the new awareness of work-life balance and slow redefining of parental gender roles has yet become a point of generalized advocacy and intensity in the Catholic theological academy, even if on the ground it is clearly gaining steam and is probably (hopefully) an irreversible development.

But some Catholic academic contexts are doing things quite well. I took a paid leave in fall 2005, after my daughter was born, a leave strongly supported by Santa Clara University, where I was then teaching. Santa Clara made the process clear, simple, and was even moving to make the "tenure clock" more flexible for those who took family leaves. My department chair and colleagues were supportive in a way that made the whole process of staying at home to care for a newborn seem natural, even for a dad. This made it possible for me to be home full-time for the first six months of my daughter's life, an experience that did indeed redefine my sense of being a parent, spouse, professor, and theologian. And at six months of age, my wife and I (both working full-time) were able to take advantage of Santa Clara's excellent on-campus child care center, Kids on Campus, while I taught and went to meetings, and I could drop in and see my daughter during lunch. (Although eventually the teachers gently helped me to see that this dropping-in was more for my own benefit than my daughter's, and so I eventually let her take lunch just with her friends.)

I tried to express to as many people as I could in Human Resources and university administration how helpful these policies were, and how wise the people who put it into place, even as my wife and I worked with other faculty and staff parents to improve further the support for working dads and working moms on campus. From the business side of things, I was told, the basic theory was that happy parents are better and more faithful employees, and I saw no reason to doubt that. The university has an interest in employees feeling addressed in something approximating their lives as "whole persons."

Now it will be up to all of us, my cohort of parents included, to take such sensible policies and generalize them to other businesses and to national policy as a whole, just as Sweden has done. A few years ago, there was an interesting conversation about how younger professors assume a different view of the work-life relationship and transparency about policy and procedure. Apparently, we want greater balance, more fairness, less stress. Life is too short, relationships too important, to be too consumed with the ideologies of the workplace. Or as one Swedish employer is quoted in the article, younger employees "want work-life balance. We have to adapt."

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

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Peter Lakeonovich
7 years 11 months ago
What about offering our work in prayer and thanksgiving to God? What about our work as a sign of our unconditional comittment to our family? This whole thing is interesting, but it just sounds kind of soft. Can you imagine St. Joseph trading in his carpenter's tools for six months in exchange for, I don't know, say, an apron? I can't. Then again, if the leave is paid, then why not. I would love to have six months off to spend with my daughter.
Benjamin Alexander
7 years 11 months ago
Mr. Lake, 
I don't know if you intended to imply that home care is for the unmanly, but I have a good friend who recently benefitted from paternity leave (and the husband works at least 60-hour weeks normally) when his wife had twins. The babies were extremely premature, required constant feeding (due to weight drop concerns-they had to be fed every two-three hours), and between the paternity and maternity leave, both parents were still working round the clock to take care of the babies with little or no sleep. Maybe being able to lighten his wife's already heavy load is something to be grateful to God for, even if it meant putting on an apron once in a while. And maybe it meant being grateful to his company for being able to offer him that. Who knows, maybe even St. Joseph wore an apron, too-I doubt he would be ashamed. But your last sentence says it all: it's not the worst thing in the world to have the chance to strengthen your bonds with your children or your spouse. In fact, it may be more important than work. I don't think, nonetheless, that both in-house and at-work roles in life have to be mutually exclusive. It's only a contingent fact that we're currently set up that way to think that they are.
Peter Lakeonovich
7 years 11 months ago
Mr. Alexander,

I did not mean to imply that at all, and I agree with your comments. However, you can see the danger when the line of reasoning goes off track annd the "benefit" that an employer decides to provide begins to take the form of some kind of a natural "right." Because then you have the Mr. Binder's of the world thinking they are somehow entitled to two and a half years of paid leave - - - I am exaggerating of course. We tend to de-humanize our employers (much like we do our government) and think of them as greedy entities with limitless resources. But we need to understand that such is not the case and that we owe our employers as much as the owe us. The Holy Father touches on this in his last encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. I just mentioned St. Joseph because he is "the worker," not the "stay-at-home-with-paid-leave-er." I'm just saying we need to appreciate our jobs and our employers and to look at our jobs as vocations that help us along the path of "integral human development."
7 years 11 months ago
I have nothing against dads who want to spend more time with their kids, but suggesting that our government or workplaces should be responsible to make the US less "significantly behind" Sweden (LOL) in that area is ridiculous.

What troubles me most in this post is the suggestion that encouraging gender homogeneity in our society is a worthy goal. Since the leftist revolution of the 1960s/70s, we've seen men encouraged to take on traditional female roles and females to take on traditional male roles, both a product, mind you, of feminist and gay activists.

A product of liberal schools, I myself have been feminized in contrast to my inherent aggressive, masculine nature. My wife, also liberal schooled, was masculinized in contrast to her inherent, emotional, nurturing nature. We had the good fortune of the success of my job such that both of us could return to our natural gender roles, she staying home with the kids and I working to support them.
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
Mike worries that he has "been feminized in contrast to my inherent aggressive, masculine nature." and that his wife "was masculinized in contrast to her inherent, emotional, nurturing nature."  I'm not certain what this means (the Gospels don't mention Jesus' "aggressive, masculine nature") but I hope this isn't a lame attempt to get out of doing his share of the housework.
Tom Maher
7 years 11 months ago
How uncrtical this article is. This article assumes great benefits for men takihg extended leave without any possiblity of downside or risk in doing so. How crazy is that?

Implied in the assumption that exteded leave is risklessness is another aassumption tht the job the man is doing is not important enough for the man to be missed. If that is true the man has an urgently need to change to a job were he is important and you will be missed. And going on an extended leave doesn't that say something to others about who you are in a bad way? Oh sure its company policy and the law says you can but is your life balance really in step with the bosses need to run a business.

Nowadays people do not have jobs unless there is real need. By not being at your job that real need is not easily meet because budgets do not include spare or extra people. So someone will have to learn you job and then do you job which is a lot of extra cost and bother> The someone will likely not be well compensated for the extra work if at all. Your free lunch is likely being paid by someone in you immeadiate work group. You are being paid while someone else is doing your job and their own job.

Your relationship with your boss and fellow workers all of whom are probably not Swedish is very likely to be damaged by your hot being at your job. The core reality is their is likely a lot of real work to be done and your not doing it. That will cause a real strain. Some will find that unrealiable and will question your commitment to your job.

And what do you say on a future job interview for a new job? "And I was on personal leave for six months so I really wasn't doing my job." Will all your future prospective employers be Swedish and have a positive acceptance of your life-work choices? Governor Jane Swift of Massachusetts had a child as she became Governor and was fiercly and publicly ridiculed by men and women for her life-work choices even though she was a new mother. Can a man in an important job not expect ridicule?

The American public are not Swedish. American culture has a definite "pull your own weight" ethic. Enjoying free lunch at someone else's expense is not admired or acceptable to most Americans.

Extended leave likely does not work out well in the long run for women or men in American society. Americans could not care less about what the Europeans think or do.
James Lindsay
7 years 11 months ago
The "pull your own weight ethic" is also called the Protestant Work Ethic. It is Calvinist - not something in line with the communalist nature of Catholic teaching.

If a woman has a better salary, there should be no social bar for a man to stay home as long as it is best for the child. Of course, the person who most wanted me to go back to work was my wife, since she did not like the pressure of being the sole bread winner.

Probably the biggest obstacle to stay at home Dads is the attitudes of their wives - which is also the biggest bar against equality for women in the workplace. If women want the really best jobs, they need to make room for men not working - including the men in their lives. There is nothing inherent in masculinity in modern society that requires that we make more money - or even earn money instead of working at child rearing. Indeed, their is nothing unmasculine about full time fatherhood, which allowed me to edit my book and be politically active (helping Jim Webb win in 2006 and take the Senate back for the Democrats as the 51st Senator).
Tom Maher
7 years 11 months ago
This article ignores American culture which is not Catholic or European.

The Protestant ethic is the work norm of the United States. Assuming you not self-employed or working for some Catholic instiutuiton overwhelmingly most places of employment are not Catholic. So very likely your extended leave may not play very well since most employee and employers are not Catholic or European. Also most Catholics are very well Americanized so they very closely resemble Protestant Americans. So even most Catholic would not appreciate extended leave free lunch for men or women. The point is that taking an extended leave is not risk free to your careeer and could indeed have a very high long term cost. Taking extended leave is definately not risk free and in fact may be hazadous to your career.
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
The studies I have read conclude that paid parental leave result in happier, more productive workplaces, families, and communities.  
James Lindsay
7 years 11 months ago
I was temping, so I simply took two and a half years off after my daughter was born and my wife went back to work(my wife was working full time at Catholic Charities - who gave her 60 days disability leave). I would have made it five years had not financial obligations required me to continue working. In a truly enlightened society, there would have been a tax credit for being a stay at home parent which would have been as generous as the day care credit - if not more so (the day care credit is $600 for one child, which is scandalously low considering the cost was around $900 per month).

If we are really pro-life, we need to make sure that parents can raise their children without daycare being required - or with it provided - which means $900/month for custodial parenting or childcare and an additional $1000 per month for each child's expenses (both of which should be refundable and could be split between the federal and state governments).

Of course, most people on the pro-life side would fight such a thing as socialism - which is why those of us on the pro-life left accuse them of caring about the unborn until birth but not after.


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