Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

recovering journalist. content and strategy at writing about policies, problems and benefits affecting working families.

When Our Sons Become Fathers, Will They Take Paternity Leave?

It’s natural to think generationally around Father’s Day.

It’s a Sunday for barbecues, yard games, golf and nostalgia. For boat shoes, fishing rods, burgers and family. For giving props to pops for all he’s done to shape the man you’ve become, and for seeing in your children the man you’ll come to be.

Because, after all, fatherhood is about the future. So this Father’s Day, let’s think about what the (work) world will be like when our sons become fathers.

Will caregiving be considered bold? Will paternity leave be the exception or the norm? How will work work?

First, an acknowledgment about the present: Fatherhood is so freakin’ hot right now.

And we’re not talking about #DadBod, which apparently is not only a thing, but a thing that has spurred a series of Internet thinkpieces and inspired craft cocktails served in suburban bistros.

Or the commercials! From big brands! If it doesn’t get a little dusty during Whirlpool’s “Dad & Andy” ad then, well, your living room’s a lot cleaner than mine. Even has hopped on the dad-vertising bandwagon, with a spot about bringing romance back with a so-easy-a-dad-can-do-it Date Night solution.

There’s some depth to this popular image of “modern dads” as being more involved parents than generations prior. 

Who can forget last spring, when Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy sparked a national conversation about paternity leave? Or the exective dads and Jon Stewart, who very publicly walked away from high-powered posts to "spend more time with family?" Or when Ashton Kutcher put public restrooms on blast for not having changing tables in mens rooms?

The list could go on. Getty even updated its art to showcase dads as caregivers (we see you, bearded yuccie dad) in its stock imagery. 

Speaking of imagery. That brings us to the other reason to think generationally around Father’s Day: The release of the Boston College Center for Work and Family’s latest report in its terrific “The New Dad” series.

In “A Portrait of Today’s Father,” the sixth installment of the series, the authors offer a wide-ranging exploration of this commonly observed shift in family dynamics. “Historically, when it came to job 1, Dad’s role was a given. He was the guy who ‘brought home the bacon,’” says the report. “But times have changed.”

According to the research, fathers have just about tripled the amount of time they spend on primary child care over the past several decades. And, in fact, today’s dads would like to be even more involved at home than they already are.

There’s a Millennial mindset that eschews traditional gender roles. Millennial moms and dads expect to be both parent and professional, they prioritize familial success, and they expect to share breadwinner-caregiver roles more equally with their partners than generations before. Research tells us this.

Education levels, technological advances, and increased female workforce participation have all contributed to these shifts. In about 60 percent of married households with kids, both parents work. The rise of dual-income families has coincided with dads’ increased involvement at home.

But being a “modern dad” isn’t so simple as trading in the briefcase for the diaper bag. Dads want to do both. And companies are letting them … kinda.

As family dynamics have evolved over the past few decades, the way we work has changed at a breakneck pace. While the work-life balance afforded by the traditional 9 to 5 may is a distant memory, in some ways the pendulum has swung back toward family-friendliness. This change, however, is happening more slowly.

The United States is still chasing Swaziland when it comes to paid maternity leave for new moms. Child care is still largely framed as a women’s issue, rather than the national economic imperative that it is. And, while there has been progress supporting working moms and improving gender parity, it’s still a struggle for dads to be treated like parents.

With employer-provided perks like paternity leave, child care assistance, new parent coaching programs and flexible work arrangements, leading employers are starting to include dads in the work-family conversation and providing them with the same supports now available to working moms.

However, these policies are exceedingly rare. And, in many cases, practical application doesn’t match those policies.

A remarkable 96 percent of dads take less than a two weeks off work following the birth of their child, while 16 percent don’t take a single day of paternity leave, according to the BC Center for Work and Family’s reports. And even those with access don't always take what they're offered. 

For all the talk of the so-called “Dad Bonus,” newer research has indicated men who are more active at home – like housework and caregiving – have encountered more mistreatment at work and suffer lower long-term earnings. Not unlike the “Mommy Tax.”

All of this is despite mounting evidence indicating the positive impact fathers taking paternity leave and sharing child-rearing responsibilities has on the long-term outcomes for their children, spouses and family. 

We're not there -- yet. But there's plenty of reason for hope.

President Obama has made strengthening working families a part of the national converation. The more high-profile dads, like Jon Stewart or Daniel Murphy, step up and put family first, the more we take notice. Bills like the Family Act could some of the onus off employers when it comes to offering paternity leave. New approaches to dad-vertising and the rising daddy blogosphere continue to inform evolving views on masculinity and fatherhood. 

So tell us: What will it be like when today’s sons become fathers? Will their caregiving be considered bold? Will paternity leave be the exception or the rule? Will more public restrooms have changing stations in the mens room?

Drop your thoughts in the comments below.