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10 Things To Do On Paternity Leave

Courtesy Weldon Owen

On Friday, we met our firstborn son Jackson. The following Thursday, I was back at work, the hospital ID bracelet still on my wrist.

That was my paternity leave. Four days at home, with a family now 7 pounds, 14 ounces heavier. My employer was expecting me back at the office on Wednesday. When I called her the day after Jackson’s birth to share the good news, she said, Wonderful! Congratulations! Take your time. We’ll see you next Thursday. An extra day! I was thrilled. And grateful. And relieved.

Since then, I’ve been put to shame. Guys are getting more and more brazen with their paternity leave. One of my good friends recently had his first kid, and took off a week. An entire week! Would his colleagues even recognize him after that long?

Then I read this story in the Wall Street Journal. A growing faction of Swedish politicians and fathers are petitioning to amend the Scandinavian nation’s paternity leave policy. They want to require men to take a minimum of three months’ leave after the birth of their child, instead of the current requirement: two months.

Three months?! I picture a Swedish dad showing up at his office looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway: Long, Gandolfian beard; tan, sinewy limbs; a baby under one arm, a volleyball under the other. Keep in mind: Dads can take up to 240 days and be compensated. The current allotment of two months is required. It’s illegal not to take it.

It’s fun to imagine what you could do with three months of paternity leave. The mind starts to wander…

I would take a season off. Who likes winter anyway?

I’d set my alarm clock for November.

I would write a novel. And its sequel. And the third book my fans would say ruined the trilogy.

I’d follow a fashion trend from beginning to end.

I’d master jiu-jitsu. Or at least the jiu part.

I could catch up on every YouTube video I haven’t seen. There must be dozens of them.

I’d fly counter-clockwise around the earth to add a couple extra days.

I’d throw 17 Hump Day parties.

I’d build Rome. We know it takes at least a day, and I have that.  

And of course, there would be the occasional sponge bath and 3 a.m. feeding.

But let’s be honest: The paternity leave policy in the U.S. (known in official circles as “zip zero nana”) is not going to change. For starters, we won’t pay for it. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Swedish government pays out approximately $3.7 billion to dads every year. (Keep in mind Sweden has a population 30 times smaller than ours.) That means Mark Zuckerberg would have to create another four or five Facebooks just to underwrite the cost.

The other problem is we view paternity leave as an obstacle to productivity. The Journal of Social Issues recently published a study stating that fathers who take leave are seen as bad workers, and are often rated lower on performance reports.

So enjoy your week, you brave, courageous, dedicated dads. But unfortunately, with that much time, your wish list of activities has to be much shorter. I suggest learning one of the easier languages on Rosetta Stone, like Canadian.