Want to be a better dad? Move to China.
January 18, 2012
by Shawn Bean
© Courtesy of Zazzle.com
I use a ballpoint pen from France to draft my initial ideas for this column. The notebook where I scribbled those ideas was printed in China. While sipping Sumatra (Indonesia) from my insulated travel mug (Canada), I click on the Microsoft Word icon with a mouse assembled in China. The keyboard that just allowed me to type “keyboard that just allowed me to type” was made in Taiwan.
I gathered the products on my desk to find out where they were manufactured. After lifting them up, emptying them out, or flipping them upside down, each revealed their provenance in a font size typically reserved the least prominent places on a world map (hello, Liberia, Papau New Guinea and Swaziland!).
The “we no longer make things in America” storyline has been debated ad nauseum, and will continue to be a newscrawl regular this election season. But there’s a much bigger problem on the horizon. Our overseas competitors are now working to improve one of the most essential products on earth: dads.
The Chinese labor bureau is in the process of granting paid paternity leave to civil servants in Hong Kong. For a Communist government we perceive as strict and totalitarian, this is groundbreaking news. It’s also a high-water mark for a wave of paternity law change that’s crashing on shores worldwide. South Korea recently changed its employment laws to give male workers five days paternity leave (three days paid, two days unpaid). Last year, Australia revised its family leave policy to provide paid paternity leave for 18 weeks.
In the states, dads get no official leave—paid or unpaid—when they have a child. In fact, the U.S. guarantees no paid leave for new mothers either. That puts us in the company of only three other countries (hello, Liberia, Papau New Guinea and Swaziland!)
We should take a cue from Sweden. That’s right, the same people who gave us ABBA and those candy fish that get stuck in our teeth let parents share 480 days of paid parental leave for each child. Last year, Swedish dads used nearly a quarter of that allotted time. That’s roughly three months.
Sweden has the second lowest infant mortality rate in the world. The U.S. ranks 34th in that category. This is no coincidence. Success as a father can only be measured by the success of the child. Our race with China and South Korea to be the best and brightest is a salient talking point for the blustery suits pressing palms at campaign pit stops. But I’ve got a message for those who want the family vote: to win the future, we’ll need to stay home first.