As Father’s Day approaches, and we begin to notice and appreciate all the little things our fathers (or father figures) have added to our lives, it’s hard to ignore the glaring issue in America when it comes to the role of fatherhood. Historically, we know our society has subscribed to rigid gender roles, especially when it comes to the responsibilities of each parent, and these seemingly fixed expectations for each caregiver seep into every aspect of our society. Which leads me to the purpose of this post; there are no nationally mandated paid benefits for parental leave. This fact is especially exasperated by the severe lack of mandated paternity leave. I mean, across the country almost 10,700 people are born each day. That’s about 450 babies each hour. Or 8 fresh newborns every second. So, why do we as a society not support fathers in preparing another being for life on our peculiar planet?
Unfortunately, if we follow the creeping vines of stigma to the root cause, we may find an unsurprising origin. Sexism. “But Crystal,” you may wonder, “what does sexism have to do with PATERNAL leave?? Shouldn’t we just be happy that this is a benefit strictly reserved for women?” Well firstly, though most mothers are allowed maternity leave, this means that not only the care for the baby is primarily handled by the ‘mother’ during its first few months of life, but the father/child bond nurtured during this time will also be affected. The connection a newborn has with their parents is fragile and unique and beautiful. I mean think about it, your world is only as big as your knowledge of the world; and all a newborn knows is the people actively caring for them. So why would we subject them to an even more limited worldview if we don’t have to?
It’s exactly this primitive cultural belief our society maintains that makes a father taking time from work to care for his wife and newborn child completely out of the ordinary. Through American society’s eyes, the father handles all financial burdens of the family, while the mother handles all of the “homemaking” affairs. Traditional values aside, this unwavering binary disallows for the true support both mother and child require after the birthing process. Support that in many cases the father would be able to provide if he were allowed to be present in the home (and even potentially still get paid. *Hint, hint congress.*). The uneasiness this stigma surfaces in men with the most likelihood to benefit is always staggering to witness. The inner struggle of actually, physically, directly being there for their family vs. supporting them financially and metaphorically, by other means.
I know Father’s Day is the day to celebrate the fathers in our lives, but I can’t also not use the holiday as an opportunity to highlight widely-accepted injustices. The aforementioned struggle shouldn’t be a decision new fathers have to make. There shouldn’t be a struggle, sacrifice, or second thought as to what path they should take. But somehow, in one of the richest nations on earth, land of the free and home of the brave, it’s hard to ignore people’s poor, restricted, and fearful realities. Happy Father’s Day y’all.