Editor’s Note: NYC Dads Group member Toshiki Ono of Manhattan writes about doing what few fathers in his native Japan do because of cultural stigmas — take family time under the country’s extremely liberal family leave policy.
I am originally from Japan, and since my wife is a graduate student in New York, I decided to take paternity leave for two years here to care for my baby son. Do Japanese businesspeople, especially dads, usually take paternity leave? Definitely NOT.
In Japan, a national law allows employees to take parental leave with pay until their child turns 1 years old. The law guarantees these employees receive two-thirds their salary in the first six months of their leave and half pay in the second six. But while this is far batter than in the United States, which doesn’t have any federal law for paid paternity leave, only 2 percent of working dads in Japan took their paternity leaves in 2015. Most of those who did, only left work for a few days.
Cultural resistance to paternity leave
The long-standing cultural attitude toward men being breadwinners and women caretakers, contributes greatly to this. When workers take family leave, it is seen as putting a burden on one’s coworkers and it hurts the taker’s career promotion chances. In recent years, the Japanese government has tried changing this attitude even setting an annual goal that by 2020, 13 percent of all new fathers taking at least some of family leave.
When I talked to others in Japan about my plan to take paternity leave, I received a three types of responses:
- The first was slightly negative response. A few people expressed worry about my career. This was the biggest issue for me as well. However, I realized that one to two years are just 3 to 6 percent of my entire professional career. I thought it would be great if there was a time during my long working life that prioritized family.
- The second was a positive response. Many of my friends and coworkers said that they wanted to take paternity leave but they couldn’t, so they wanted to help me. I cannot thank enough the coworkers who let me pass my work tasks onto them during my absence.
- The last was a strong negative response, which came from only one person. But finally he changed his mind, even if it was just to cheer me up.
In general, many of my friends and coworkers were behind my choice so I could fly to New York with a positive mindset.
Being a dad in The Big Apple
When I moved to New York two years ago, I was surprised to see many dads in a playground in the evening — even on weekdays and especially on Friday night. You almost never see that in Tokyo, especially on a weekday evening. What I saw made me think that there were many flexible work styles for New York dads — ones that offer not only options of how to work, but when and how to switch from “on” to “off.”
This has good and bad, though. One day, I saw a dad in a playground with his boy who seemed to be 4 or 5 years old. The dad was on a video conference with his laptop while also trying to watch his son playing in a sandpit. The boy suddenly turned toward his dad and threw sand to his dad! The laptop was covered and the dad was really upset. He held his laptop upside down and tried removing the sands from his laptop. I cannot help imagining how the other attendees of the video-con were surprised!
Luckily for me and others, NYC Dads Group is greatly helpful for area fathers. Soon after I came to the city, I joined the group. There were many dads hosting events for dads and kids. For example, I went to Bronx Zoo for the first time for its meetup event and made some dad friends. There were also weekly playdates in various kinds of places such as Metropolitan Museum of Art and American Museum of Natural History (with huge dinos!). Furthermore, we have “dad’s nights out” only for fathers sometimes. At one, I tried SoulCycle, a popular (but really tough!) bike exercise class, for the first time with some dads.
Now, I am proud of being a stay-at-home dad for two years. I return to Tokyo soon, but first I need to thank to all of my friends and coworkers in both Japan and the United States. I will be able to return with confidence as a dad. New York is a city where I became a dad, indeed!