Taking Father Time (cont.)

Part of the problem is that employers have yet to embrace the concept of paternity leave, making the FMLA a de facto maternity leave policy, says Armin Brott, author of The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year. When he asked executives, human resource administrators, and CEOs how much time they thought was reasonable for a man to take off after the birth of a child, 40% answered, "no time at all."

In the conflict between work and family, what they want remains clear to most fathers, even if they feel their employers don't support it. According to a recent study released by the Radcliffe Public Policy Center, 71% of men ages 21 to 39 say they would give up some of their pay for more time with their families.

Taking the Time

Leander Kahney, 34, is among that 71%. He says his boss was supportive of his decision to take four weeks' unpaid paternity leave from his job as a reporter at San Francisco-based Wired News so he could be with his wife, three children, and newborn baby. But he doesn't dismiss the possibility that it might have set him back. "It's a crazy workaholic society, where it has more to do with the hours you put in than your talents."

Brott says fathers like Kahney risk a career penalty for taking paternity leave as long as American society equates being a good father with financial success. "There is a lot more pressure for a man to earn," he said. "It's how we value what a good father is, and the potential damage to his career if he takes off is far greater than for a woman."

Still, Kahney doesn't have any regrets about his decision to both help his wife recover from childbirth and spend quality time with the rest of his brood. "The more time you spend with the kids, the better. Better for the child and better for you, too."

The Pros of Early Participation

Kahney's sentiments are strongly supported by the research of Kyle Pruett, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University Child Study Center. Pruett says spending time early on with a newborn is important for everyone -- dad, mom, and baby.

One advantage: Those early interactions can help boost a new dad's confidence. "Parenting is not in your gonads and not in your genes; it's something you have to learn at the hands of your child and vice versa," he says. "If you don't take paternity leave at the beginning, you will always feel like you're joining the journey in the process, instead of having started off at the trailhead together."

Early participation also strengthens the spousal relationship, says Pruett. "A lot of women talk about feeling more attracted to their spouses when they are competent parents," said Pruett. "To have their spouse be a confident, nurturing father is pretty irresistible to most women."

And even at this young age, a baby benefits from the father's presence as well, says Pruett. The results of his long-term study on the role of the father, published in the Nov. 1998 issue of Pediatrics, found some special strengths in children whose fathers were actively involved in their daily lives. "The children were very competent developmentally," says Pruett. "They tended to have social competence, problem-solving skills, all of which seemed to make them good adapters to the world."