How the Economy is Nut-Punching Fatherhood

So I was surfing along on the net when I came across this post at Momformation, asking, “When should new dads go back to work after the baby’s been born?” Two things stuck out for me while reading this: One, oblivious dads like the guy who told his expectant wife he had no intentions of taking off any time after their baby came were granted a degree of understanding, which is more than I would’ve given. Oh, I’m sorry. Your wife just dropped an eight-pound, butterball of love from her hoo-haw, and you didn’t think that maybe she might need a little help afterward? Men! I swear.

The second item that jumped out was the number of comments citing their husband’s job as the determining factor. I realize that sounds obvious. What these ladies were referring to, however, was that financial need and job security in today’s economy superseded the amount of time their husbands should stayed home.

Ah, the economy. Is there nothing in our lives that it doesn’t screw up? (Personally, the crack of my butt would like to thank the 1% for the industrial-grade TP I’m forced to buy so we can afford Ramen.) In this case (paternity leave, not my toilet paper) the economy is doing its part to keep dads pushing paperwork at the office instead of pushing a baby stroller back home.

Although it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of fathers see their role as being the family’s provider, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be involved parents, to include the period right after the Stork shows up on the doorstep with the ultimate care package.  A 2000 Oxygen/Markle Pulse Poll found that 72 percent of American women and 63 percent of men believed fathers should take more than two weeks off after the birth of a child. That’s a healthy number, but then again, unemployment wasn’t lollygagging around 9% back then either. Back before the middle class got bent over like a smooth-skinned, rube on his first day in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Back when there actually was a middle class and times were good, fathers may have felt safer confessing that they would prefer being a dad rather than a cubical monkey clutching a red stapler.

In 2005, a CareerBuilder.com survey revealed that 44% of working fathers would stay home with the kids full time if they could swing it financially. Over the coming years, though, that number then shrank in step with the economy to 31% by 2009.

This past June, CareerBuilder.com reported that that number had risen slightly to 33%, as 84% of working dads who had been laid off during the previous twelve months found work again. Being one of those dads, I’m guessing, like me, these guys are grateful to have a job again, and will do what they need to in order to stay employed. A lot of other dads are doing the same exact thing.

In this same report, CareerBuilder.com noted that 22% of fathers work 50 or more hours a week, while 20% say they bring work home at least three times in that same period.  What’s more, 39% of those surveyed say they spend less than two hours a night with their children, 16% spend less than one. Worse, 34% claimed they missed two or more significant events in their child’s life over the past year due to job conflicts, and 21% feel work has had a negative impact on their relationship with their kids.

Consider too that while everyone technically has legal access to 12 weeks of time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), it’s still unpaid, unless you’re lucky enough to work for one of the 11% of companies or live in one of the few states like California that will cover you while you’re out. Aside from that, as the family provider, dads are pretty much ODF (“Out Dar Flappin’”) financially speaking,  making it awfully tough to buy Ramen and diapers.

The cruel irony in all of this is that, just when this “new” age of fatherhood is emerging when men want to be more involved in parenting and value being a good father over having a good career, along comes the economy with a nut-punch, reminding us dads that at present, bringing home the bacon is priority number one regardless of what we view as actually being important. I don’t think it’s overreaching to say this either, especially when considering the recent Boston College study that found more dads than moms now struggle with work-life balance issues.

So, circling back to the original question, of how much time should new dads take off after their baby is born, the simple answer, at least for now is, as much as they can afford.

 

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