Paternity Leave: A few thoughts after the fact

I haven’t written on this blog in two years for a very good reason: I didn’t take a child care leave for my second child.

From April 2010 to March 2011 I took a one year of child care leave of absence from my workplace in Japan, which was a national school and thus was obligated by law to grant me leave for up to two years. When I returned from the leave, I experienced both negative and positive reactions from my colleagues. Keep in mind, however, that (a) child care leave for fathers is being encouraged in Japan and (b) there is a serious lack of children in Japan. Of course, the (b) point could be said for most of East Asia in general, but the (a) point is unique outside the Scandanavian countries.

My second daughter was born in January 2012, at the end of the first academic year back from the child care leave. As much as I wanted, I just couldn’t do another leave, especially not so soon after the first. There were several reasons: my colleagues already resented me for the first leave, I was just defending my doctoral dissertation and was preparing to apply to other positions, and my income had been severely affected by not being paid for a full year. What I didn’t mention in previous posts was that my pension from both my school and from the national pension system had been affected by not paying into either system for a year. Later in 2011, my wife and I began to search earnestly for a house and when we settled on a location, I had to rely on both her and her parents for the down payment (as a national civil servant at the time, it was however easier for me to get the housing loan…)

I just switched jobs in April 2013 to a private university, for better pay, more prestige, and better working conditions (this last one is, apparently, considered debatable, but this is not the proper forum for such talk). I’m better off financially than I have been in years, have successfully published, have a wonderful wife who works extremely hard and deserves all the accolades she earns. My oldest daughter is going to turn 5 this coming May and can speak two languages, as well as draw and play piano much better than her daddy. But I regret not being able to take a leave for my youngest. I feel like I have missed something by her being accepted into the same nursery school as my oldest.

So why write now?

The past couple days I happened to notice an upsurge in views of my blog. My long-forgotten blog on parental leave. I thought that that was a bit odd, but I also happened to stumble across an article in the Atlantic this morning called the Risky Business of Parental Leave. The article purports to summarize “studies” of men (and women, but mostly men) who take what the US thinks is child care leave — a handful of days just after the child is born. The ultimate conclusion is that men’s career earnings take a substantial hit, but that anyway we should encourage men to take paternity leave because it makes them better caregivers.

First reaction:

It’s OK that women, and not men, are expected to quit their jobs and watch the children while the men go to work for *more* hours rather than less? Cue the 1950s popular TV show theme track.

Second reaction:

If this were about women taking child care leave, the Atlantic probably wouldn’t even bother writing an article about it. After all, it’s only shocking when men consider reducing work hours to watch the children they helped to bring into this world.

Third reaction:

It’s a sad, sad, society that judges its male participants solely on the basis of how much money they have, rather than on how stable or rewarding their personal, and familial relations are.

In my personal experience, those with the most money are among the best representatives of the reptile family of the evolutionary tree, while those with much less money are the people I want as my neighbors. Forgoing child care just because you’re worried that Joe Blow in the same office might get promoted over you only demonstrates how small and insignificant a person you really are. Or how small and insignificant your office is. If your boss deliberately overlooks you because you dared to violate an unspoken, unwritten, out of date gender tradition about the “bread-winner” roles in 18th century America, maybe you ought to consider getting a new job.

But I think that’s probably the point these days. Because the economy has yet to recover from the devastating policies of Wall Street, men are reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize their job position. It’s always the women and other “minorities” who are thrown to the side in times of economic crisis. “Men ought to be working anyway,” goes the argument. “Women working is just a bonus.” Women are relegated to second-class citizen status, and men are demeaned into being only valued for the money they should earn.

For a society to claim true equality for all its members, men and women should both be able to work or raise a family equally, without prior preconceptions about what the father or mother “should” be doing. My wife took a child care leave, and she was able to return to work with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. I took a child care leave and returned determined more than ever to make myself worthy of more work. For me especially as a man, I was finally able to understand just a bit of how difficult it really is to raise a child…but also how rewarding, how gratifying, and how absolutely human and necessary it is to value a child’s life over a bank account.

Was there resentment from colleagues? Of course. The colleagues that deserve my trust and respect got over it. The ones who didn’t get over it didn’t deserve my respect in the first place. They are out of touch with modern society. They will be the ones left behind.

About MThomas

Long ago, I gave up my high school dreams of becoming the next Carl Sagan and instead wound up working (in order) at McDonald's, a '60s-themed restaurant, a video rental store, a used bookstore, a computer seller, Kinko's, a Jewish newspaper company, and an HR firm. I eventually became a teacher of intercultural communication in Kyoto, where I vainly attempt to apply quantum mechanics to language teaching, practice martial arts and Zen Buddhism, and always keep one eye on the sky. And yes, I know my profile photo's backward. I just think it looks better this way.
This entry was posted in colleague reactions, gender roles, Japan, parenting, Paternity leave, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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