Change the World

Forget the Tie: This Father's Day, Give Dad the Gift of Paid Family Leave

It's time for a nationwide paid family leave policy that includes everyone, including dads and adoptive parents

In the months before their son was born this past November, Mauricio and Stephen should have been busy luxuriating in the anxieties familiar to every new dad: worrying if you've misassembled the baby furniture; stressing about baby names; and debating whether to re-gift the extra copies of "Goodnight Moon" every new parent is inevitably given.

Instead the husbands, whose daughter was still many years from her first algebra class, were preoccupied with solving a math question: how the hell were they going to add up enough days off of work to care for their adopted newborn?


"Ultimately, we were fortunate," Mauricio said. "We negotiated ahead of time for vacation days that allowed us both to stay at home for three weeks after our daughter was born."

Unlike the vast majority of American employers, Mauricio and Stephen's jobs do, in fact, offer some form of paid leave to some new parents—but only to moms who have given birth. But new dads and adoptive parents? You're out of luck. So after spending three weeks of their "vacation" time caring for their newborn daughter in the days after her birth, the couple dutifully returned to work, entrusting the care of their daughter to a stranger.

"Financially speaking, the early return to work forced us to get help at home to take care of our newborn, which is not affordable," Mauricio said. "Emotionally, it is hard to leave a three-week-old newborn at home to the care of someone you just hired."

***

Unfortunately, Mauricio and Stephens's predicament is part of a much larger national embarrassment: the United States is the only country, besides Papua New Guinea, without some form of a national paid family leave policy. Only 14% of workers in the United States have access to such a benefit.

In Europe, meanwhile, policymakers—already content with the coverage they provide new moms—have moved on to improving leave policies aimed just at fathers. If Mauricio and Stephen lived in Sweden, for instance, they would each be eligible for 90 pays of paid leave. In Iceland, meanwhile, the new dads would have been guaranteed 90 days, in addition to another 90 days split between them, however they saw fit.

Just in case you're not yet packing your bags for Europe, this last example should do the trick: a company in Italy recently granted an employee paid time off to care for a sick dog.

"It's illegal to separate kittens and puppies from their parents at a much later date than what we expect from parents in the United States," said Brianna Cayo Cotte, Chief of Staff for PL+US, a nonprofit working to expand paid leave policies across the country. "Yet we expect people to be back to work less than two weeks after they become new parents. That's just crazy."

Fortunately, Brianna says PL+US has seen something of a sea change in recent years regarding the ways American workers and businesses are viewing parental leave policies.

"A growing change is happening where millennial men expect to be equal parenting partners," she explained. But, she explained, unequal workplace policies can make it difficult for men to fill that role. As a result, "we're seeing paid leave become more of an expectation."

This cultural shift, prompted by tireless organizing efforts, is clearly having an impact. According to a yearly survey conducted by PL+US, over one-third of top U.S. employers have improved upon their paid family leave policies in the past two years.

On the federal level, advocates are still pushing for the enactment of Senator Kristin Gillibrand's FAMILY Act, which would guarantee 12 weeks of partial income to every new parent, regardless of gender or birth status. But paid leave advocates are not merely waiting for Congressional winds to blow in their favor—paid leave bills have been introduced in 17 states this year, hopefully adding to the five that currently have policies in place.

Private companies are also doing their part. Beginning this Father's Day, Dove Men+Care has teamed up with Gays With Kids and others to champion paternity leave for all dads, and challenge the stereotypes around men as caregivers. The recently launched campaign, #DearFutureDads, seeks to spark a cultural movement that not only increases access but also utilization to paid paternity leave policies. According to recent research by Promundo-US and Dove Men+Care, 73% of dads agree there is little workplace support for fathers, and one in five men stated they were afraid of losing their job if they took the full amount of paternity leave offered.

"By supporting this important initiative, our goal is to increase utilization rates of paid paternity leave for those men who have access to it and encourage other companies to come together," said Nick Soukas, VP of Skin Cleansing & Baby Care for Unilever. "We also hope to encourage other companies to come together and offer men paid paternity leave so they can take the time to care for their families.

***

Though change in corporate America is on the horizon, far too many corporate policies, Brianna says, remain unresponsive to the specific needs of LGBTQ people, who often come to parenthood in unique ways. Overwhelming, companies still give little to no leave for men and adoptive parents.

"We have usual families," said Brianna. "The caregiving LGBT families need to provide might not fit into traditional structure, and a really progressive policy will recognize that."

Matt and Richard, new fathers to twin boys as of this past March, have recently confronted an inflexible work policy. Matt's employer, an insurance company based in California, offers no paid leave to new dads. They do, however, offer benefits to new adoptive parents—two weeks paid leave and a $4,000 stipend to offset legal fees.

Though Matt and Richard's sons were born via surrogacy, they figured they were still eligible for the adoption benefits. Matt and Richard are each biologically related to just one of the twins, meaning the men had to undergo adoption proceedings—with all the associated stressors and costs—to become the legal guardian of their non-biological son.

But when Matt applied for the adoption benefits at his job, he was denied on the grounds that his situation was not a "typical" adoption process.

Matt (left) with husband Richard (right) and newborn twins

"It's surprising because I work for a very inclusive company," Matt said, who lives with his family outside of Seattle, Washington. "They know I'm gay and that I was having kids. No one ever had a problem with it."

Matt was lucky to have about two weeks worth of vacation days left in the year. In order to cobble together a full month of leave, he also took an additional two weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed to him under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), currently the country's only guaranteed form of family leave.

"Two weeks unpaid was not insignificant," Matt said. "That's half a month's salary not going to support my family."

After only a month, Matt returned to work, leaving his husband, Richard, alone to care for their newborn twins during the day.

"They were still eating every three hours when I went back to work," Matt said. "If I had been able to stay at home for longer, to get down to the point when it was just once a night, it would have made a huge difference in all of our lives."

***

As more generous family leave policies are beginning to take hold in the United States, ones that are truly inclusive continue to be a blind spot for companies—even for companies that are otherwise regarded as LGBTQ friendly.

So, what can be done about it?

"A growing mantra in our office is 'ask and advocate,'" said Brianna. "You won't change anything without trying."

In January 2017, Starbucks announced it would begin offering six weeks of fully paid parental leave to its hourly workers. But like so many other company policies, the expansion would only benefit birth mothers, leaving fathers and adoptive parents out of the mix.

Over the last year, however, a group of employees, led by several LGBTQ workers, began organizing and pushing the company to adopt a more equitable policy. Their efforts quickly paid off; in less than a year, Starbucks announced it was once again amending its policy to include fathers and adoptive parents.

"LGBTQ parents are among the most likely to be left out of these policies, so they can also be some of the strongest and most persuasive voices for change," Brianna said. "LGBTQ people are organized. They know how to ask for things when they're not getting it; they know how to escalate."

PL+US has even recently launched an online workshop to help new parents interested in changing company policies do so with some tried and proven tools.

Matt, for his part, seemed unsure when I asked whether he planned to push for a policy change at his own work. And who could blame him for simply wanting to move on with his life? He and his family suffered an injustice. But he still has twin newborns to raise, a job to do and a husband to love. How was he supposed to fit in time for what could turn into a protracted battle at work?

"Doing all that while also taking care of newborn twins wouldn't be easy in any way," he said. "But doing nothing doesn't seem right, either. This is discrimination, and something needs to change."

Show Comments ()
Gay Dad Life

Brooklyn Gay Dads Who Brunch

This is the fourth year in a row that José Rolon has hosted a brunch for gay dads on Father's Day. This year, he played host to 80 people!

José Rolon has been throwing an annual Gay Father's Day since 2016, and every year they get bigger and better. "Basically I threw up some balloons and cooked for 30 people and let the kids run around my home," said José when asked about his very first brunch. Last month, he hosted 80 people at Everyday Athlete in Brooklyn and even had sponsors for the special event! We spoke with José to find out about his brunch celebrating gay dads on Father's Day.

Keep reading...
Popular

How Do Gay Dads Celebrate Father's Day Over the Years?

Whether it's your first time celebrating as a dad or your 30th, Happy Father's Day from all of us as Gays With Kids!

June is a celebratory month for us gay dads. We have Pride to remind us of our history, support our fellow LGBTQ+ community, and to be proud of who we are. We also have Father's Day, a cultural acknowledgement of dads everywhere!

It's a great day to acknowledge the dads in our lives (us included!) and the evolving role of fathers in general. But how does the celebration of Fathers' Day change for gay dads over the years? To find out, we spoke with seven gay dad families, each with a different number of Fathers' Days under the belt (from their first to their 30th!) to hear their family traditions, family stories, and their advice to future gay, bi and trans dads.

Keep reading...
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Things I've Learned in the Decade Since Celebrating My First Father's Day

This year will be John Hart's 10th year celebrating Father's Day as a dad. Here's 15 things he's learned in that decade.

I celebrated my first Father's Day as a new father a decade ago. And while some sleepless nights, whining phases or the Gangnam Style-era seemed endless at the time, the years have gone by quickly.

Here are some of the things that I've learned about since 2009:

#1. Learning is Constant

I have discovered so much more about hockey, hip hop and slime than I ever knew before. And just because I love musicals, singing and Tiana (my favourite Disney princess), doesn't mean my kids have to enjoy the same. Plus my kids tell me that just because I can do the Floss and Orange Justice, doesn't mean I should, especially in public.

#2. When it's quiet...

Just because it's quiet doesn't mean everything is ok. I've let the two kids play on when it was quiet, only to realize later they were playing with postage stamps as if they were stickers or were unrolling condoms onto their fingers ("these balloons are kinda slimy...."). On the other hand, just because it's quiet doesn't mean everything is wrong: I once checked on them in the other room to find them counting each others' toes and in the car I turned around to see them looking out their own windows but holding hands in the middle.

#3. Speak Out When Necessary

I have advocated – sometimes wisely, sometimes passionately (read angrily) for my kids while trying to navigate the education, health, social services and adoption systems. I am much more outspoken on their behalf than mine. I will go all daddy bear on you if I must.

#4. New Perspectives

I have looked at life anew through my children's eyes, especially Christmas, theme parks and board games. Also, however, sexism, racism and homophobia – while I want to protect their innocence and curiosity as much as possible, I need to prepare them for the real world. I feel they need to know what might happen, how to respond and how irrational it all will be.

#5. Old Perspectives

There are times when "when I was a kid..." stories are fascinating to the two kids – landlines? Antenna tv? VHS? And there are times when "when I was a kid..." is just not relevant to how they live their lives today.

#6. Curiosity 

The kids have questions – so many questions – but they're not looking for overly complicated answers, simply something they understand and hopefully an analogy to their own experience or to a character they know.

#7. An Extensive Family

We have grown our family by multitudes with our children, their blood siblings and their blood siblings' adoptive families. It is amazing to celebrate special bonds with them all and have so many people we now consider family.

#8. Love and Pain


I find ways to let my children know that they're wanted and loved every day, while also acknowledging the trauma of the separation from their birth families. Sometimes my love isn't enough because they have questions I can't always answer. We talk to them about their adoption stories, and to ensure their sense of permanency, I had tattoos of their initials inked onto my arms.

#9. Learning From Mistakes

I try every day to provide the structure, security and safety my kids need, but also room to grow and to express themselves. They need to discover who they are, explore the world and make their own mistakes.

#10. Learning From Mistakes (Daddy Edition)

I have found myself failing as a father, yet I have never given up completely. These kids are mine and I'm responsible. I need to learn from my mistakes and do better. I also need to admit my mistakes, apologize and show that we can persist, forgive and move forward.

#11. The Importance of Saying Less

There are times when "you're having a hard day, let me give you a hug" is all I need to say and all they want to hear.

#12. Creating Community 

We have met and bonded with many gay dads, sharing similar experiences of adoption, confused or inquiring looks, and times we need to out ourselves yet again. We have also met and bonded with many parents of whatever sex and orientation as we share the same experiences of trying to do the best for our children (and retain some sense of sanity), trying to register for programs with waitlists and swap helpful hints of how to get the kids to sit down and eat their dinner.

#13. Sharing Our Story 

I've spoken with dozens of gay men, both individually and while on panels, about becoming parents, offering advice, wisdom and encouragement. There are usually so many questions – How? How long? How did you...? When did you...? But also sharing our photos and stories that show the results and rewards of pursuing parenthood.

#14. An Online Community 

I've written for Gays With Kids for five years, offering insights and a personal perspective. I enjoy hearing from other families too and seeing photos from around the world. It is so wonderful to find a small but growing international community to encourage, support and inspire each other.

#15. Pride for All

It is important for our family of four to attend Pride together. Sure they've seen some things that make them giggle or prompt conversation later, but they need to partake as well. They need to see others like them – and others not like them – and be seen; they need to feel that they belong; and that they are equally deserving to stand tall and proud too. They're part of the community too.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Gay Dad Gains Clarity After a Health Scare

A recent health scare helped give Erik Alexander clarity.

Sometimes fear can cripple the mind and hinder ones judgement. Having children of my own, I have come to grips with accepting the things I cannot change and learned to take action when there is no other choice. When it comes to my own personal health, the future and well being of my family gives me all the clarity I need to make the right decision about any kind of health scare.

This episode is dedicated to all the parents out there that are going through or have gone through similar situations.

Keep reading...
Gay Dad Family Stories

This European Couple Became Dads Through a U.K.-Based Surrogacy Program

Janno, from Estonia, and Matthias, from Belgium, were accepted into the "Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy" Program.

Janno Talu, an accountant, and Matthias Nijs, an art gallery director, were born in different parts of Europe. Janno, 39, is from Estonia, and Matthias, 28, is from Belgium. Their paths crossed when the two moved to London, each from their different corners of the European Union.

Janno relocated to London earlier than Matthias, when he was 24, and his main reason for the move was his sexuality. "Although Estonia is considered one of the more progressive countries in Eastern Europe, when it comes to gay rights, it is still decades behind Western society in terms of tolerance," said Janno. "And things are not moving in the right direction." In 2016, same-sex civil union became legal, but the junior party in the current coalition government is seeking to repeal the same-sex partnership bill. "In addition," Janno continued, "they wish to include the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the country's constitution. Even today, there are people in Estonia who liken homosexuality to pedophilia, which is why I decided to start a new life in the UK, where I could finally be myself."

Keep reading...
Surrogacy for Gay Men

Interested in Surrogacy? Check Out These Bay Area Events This Weekend

If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, two major events are happening that will be of interest for dads-to-be and surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF)

If you're in San Francisco or the surrounding area, clear your calendar this weekend. Two events are happening simultaneously that are significant for dads-to-be AND surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF). For an outlines of both events, check out below.

Keep reading...
News

Gay Dads Show Up at Boston Event to Drown Out Anti-Trans Protesters

When Trystan Reese found out protesters were planning to show up to an event in Boston he was presenting at, he put out a call to his community for help — and gay dads showed up.

A couple months ago, Trystan Reese, a gay, trans dad based in Portland, Oregon, took to Instagram to share a moving, if incredibly concerning, experience. Reese, who works with Family Equality Council, was speaking at an event in Boston, and learned before his appearance that a group of protesters were planning to attend.

"As a trans person, I was terrified to be targeted by anti-LGBTQ people and experienced genuine fear for my own safety," Trystan wrote. In response, he did what many LGBTQ people would do in a similar situation — reach out to his community in Boston, and ask for their support. "And they came," he wrote. But it wasn't just anyone within the LGBTQ community that came to his defense, he emphasized — "you know who came? Gay men. Gay dads, to be exact. They came, ready to block people from coming in, ready to call building security, ready to protect me so I could lead my event. They did it without question and without reward. They did it because it was the right thing to do."

Keep reading...

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse