EDITOR’S NOTE: Work-life balance is a major issue for modern dads and moms. In this guest post, NYC Dads Group member Andrew Bentley writes about the trials and ultimate joys (along with the prospect of a new business venture) he found when taking advantage of his company’s paid paternity leave program.
I’ve wanted to be a father since I was a kid myself. I always found something magical about the bond between parents and their kids. I was so into the idea that in college I used to joke about having enough kids to field an entire basketball game, referee included.
Despite my deep desire to be a dad, I had never taken care of a baby alone until the first day of my paternity leave.
When my wife closed our apartment door, heading to work, the room stilled. A winter sun poured through our windows and my son slept in my arms. At the end of that first day, my wife came back through that door to find me bouncing our son on an exercise ball while I suffered with a throbbing backache matched in intensity by head-spinning anxiety. I was overwhelmed and outmatched by my 10-pound, 4-month-old baby boy, Booker.
By the end of my eight-week paid paternity leave, I was in tears nearly every day. But it wasn’t because I was overwhelmed or had back pain. It was because I couldn’t imagine returning to work and not taking care of my son all day.
I’m fortunate to work at Google Fiber high-speed internet service which gives 12 weeks of paid family leave to primary caregivers, regardless of gender (biological mothers receive 22 weeks). Employees can take that leave at any time until their child turns 1. After a month off to help my wife when my son was born, I decided to take another two months when she went back to work.
“My paid paternity leave was by far one of the most important moments of my life. My child and I learned to trust each other. And I learned that I had always been right — being a father is my purpose.”
During that first day on paternity leave my son refused to stop crying unless I bounced him on the exercise ball. He would only take the bottle if I bounced him and simultaneously used a toy with flashing lights to distract him. I spent more than six hours bouncing on that exercise ball on the first day.
Man, I hated that ball.
Man, I loved that ball.
Add in bottle warming miscalculations and that I hadn’t showered or eaten much, and I was broken.
On Day Two, I started weaning my son off the exercise ball and built a routine full of fun things for us, such as dancing, stretching and baby massage.
I learned how to listen for his needs and how to soothe him.
I knew which farts meant poop and which were just hilarious farts.
I figured out that my saying “bluh bluh bluh bluh” made him laugh uncontrollably.
I was there the first time he danced by himself.
My paid paternity leave was by far one of the most important moments of my life. My child and I learned to trust each other. And I learned that I had always been right — being a father is my purpose.
With the full understanding that most men don’t have the opportunity to take any, let alone eight, weeks of paid parental leave, I strongly urge all new dads to find a way to be a primary caretaker of their babies even if only for a few days at a time. That’s time to learn to be a caretaker and to cement a bond that can last a lifetime.
I took what I learned during my paternity leave and created a startup to support and inspire fathers. My company, Father + Figure, is developing the first clothing line designed for dads, especially those taking care of babies. I want to inspire other fathers to be proud of the time they are spending with their children and believe this clothing line is an exciting start. Take a look at my Kickstarter project here, and please consider supporting the effort.