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Lessons From a Paternity Leave Dad

Christine Osson/Scanpix/SIPA USA

I am a well-educated, 32-year-old engineer. And on any weekday afternoon in Stockholm, you can find tables of men like me sitting in cafés, going fika: drinking coffee and chatting with other men. No, there is not a rash of unemployment in Sweden. These men—all with strollers within arm's reach or BabyBjörns strapped to their chests—are on paternity leave.

For the past six months, I have been what the Swedes call a “Latte Dad.” Here, couples get a total of eight months' childbirth leave: two months each for Mom and Dad, and the remaining four to use as you like. (Dads get half-salary from the social system when on leave, while mothers get full pay.) Fathers who do not stay home for the minimum are considered old-fashioned, like someone from the 1950s.

When our daughter, Minna, was born, my wife, Klara, and I decided I would take my maximum amount of leave when she went back to work as a teacher. I've found that the positives very much outweigh the negatives. I've really had a chance to get to know my child. Following the small changes she makes every day has made me more confident as a father. I know what to do when she cries. I understand her baby talk, expressions, and gestures. At first, Klara always put Minna to bed, for the simple reason that she was better at getting her to calm down. Now, I'm just as comfortable being in charge of the nighttime procedures, a relief to Klara.

I had a lesson to learn, though. I thought it was going to be like a long, nice vacation for me. This was not the case. It was much more mentally exhausting than I expected. I thought I would visit museums and discover Stockholm (which you do not normally have time for when working). I've visited exactly one museum, at which I discovered Minna does not fancy sitting in the cart a whole afternoon. And when we stay home, cleaning, cooking, and laundry is often quite tough! I must be honest: I just like to rest on the sofa while Minna naps so that I can survive the rest of the day. This experience has made me more humble. From now on, it will be easier for Klara and me to live a more equal life, sharing the load.

Last Wednesday, I took Minna to the last baby swim class. While playing with her in the pool, I realized that the leave that seemed endless went so fast. We have been doing everything and nothing, and it's been so worth it. I am now exiting my Latte Dad bubble. I'm transitioning from leave to face new tasks, which feels exciting. With Minna at nursery school, and Klara flourishing at teaching, a new time in our lives is beginning.

Marcus Bergöö lives in Stockholm, Sweden. After 180 days on child leave, he's back to work at his former company, but at a new engineering job.