Countless studies have shown a baby’s early years are most critical for establishing strong family bonds and developing positive social skills. Currently, parents in Ontario can take time with their new little bundles through Employment Insurance (EI) up to 37 weeks combined maternity and paternity leave, which couples can split however they see fit.

Although parental leave has been an option since the mid 2000s, dads still take very little time off after the birth of their child and that’s not just long paternity leaves. According to UCBaby, Canadian research shows 75% of fathers take a week or less and 16% don’t take any days off at all.

A number of factors might contribute to such low numbers. In heterosexual relationships, many fathers are still the higher earner in their family and can’t afford to take a reduced wage (currently a dismal 55% of your regular pay). Or, they don’t qualify for parental benefits through EI; you need to have accumulated 600 insurable hours in the past year to be eligible for parental leave. Self-employed or part-time workers won’t qualify unless they’ve opted to pay into their own EI benefits. In other circumstances, fathers may worry about losing seniority at work or being emasculated by their peers.

But, for a growing number of new fathers, it’s becoming more acceptable (personally as well as professionally) to take parental leave to spend more time with their babies in those impressionable early years. Some employers are even investing in employees taking leave, not only letting them have the time off but encouraging them to do so with attractive incentives, like benefit top ups and no repercussions to their position.

“My employer offers the opportunity for fathers to take up to six weeks at 100% pay. Those six weeks come off the mother’s year. But they can be taken at the same time,” says Danny McKinnon of London and father of now 4-year-old Mary. “So, we took the last six weeks off together. For me, it was a no brainer to take the time to spend once Mary was a little older.”

Having that time off was extremely beneficial for Danny and his family. “It wasn’t just me going to work every day and only seeing Mary at night and not getting in there and helping Angela [his wife] — but giving Mary extra love and attention.”

Danny, an Investment Representative of 17 years for one of the five big banks, had unwavering support from family and colleagues. “My family was super excited that my employer was giving me the ability to have six weeks paid time off during the first year. My peers at work, some of them, had done it before and were very supportive and encouraging about it.”

For some dads, the decision to take a longer paternity leave plays double-duty in bonding with the child as well as helping their partner maintain career aspirations.

Mark Marshall, father of two, is a Senior IT Manager and a 28-year veteran of Brampton’s Public Education service. He took parental leave with his youngest, Michael, born in February 2008. His wife Rachel took the first eight months, and he took the last four.

“At the time I took parental leave, I cannot remember another male in our department ever taking it. It did not affect my career at all. I had a very supportive CIO who happened to be female. I cannot say for sure that her being female made a difference, but in IT, there is a disproportionate number of males and it gets the moniker of a boys’ club.”

For Mark and his family, there were many good reasons for him to take parental leave. “Firstly, I think it supported Rachel in her career as women generally, and more specifically in IT, have a challenge competing in the “boys club.” The quicker she returned to work, the better it was for her career and probably her state of mind. Being isolated at home thinking about work probably wears on you.”

Another major reason was to spend time with his son while he was still very young, “not that we did a lot at eight months old.” But taking full responsibility for Michael and all domestic needs was a great experience for Mark. “I think getting away from work was good, but slowing down and getting time to be just us was very cathartic. You tend to get caught up in the whirlwind that is life in the 2000s, and I enjoyed being at home. In fact,  I was not looking forward to returning to work at the end.”

For the Millson’s, 1995 marked a special time in their lives. With 26-month-old twin daughters at home, Jim and Michelle found themselves expecting their third child. Paternity leave was a new thing in the OPP where Jim worked (now retired), but he found it was a fantastic opportunity to stay home and bond with the twins while Michelle cared for their new baby girl. “I spent most of the time bonding with the baby, but it gave Jim an opportunity to get out with the girls experiencing the parks, the outdoors, meeting new little kids,” says Michelle. “We were very fortunate to be able to spend time with the three little ones together. Having Jim home for eight weeks during his parental leave was a fabulous opportunity for us all. It relieved a lot of pressure on me as a mother of three under the age of two and a half.”

While more people these days are open to the idea of men taking time off work to be with their families and bond with their children, there is one misconception that needs immediate quashing: “The number one [misconception], ‘He’s lazy and doesn’t want to work’ – really? Staying home you do not have time to be lazy,” says Mark. “You are busy; you are not home with the child in the playpen while you have a beer and watch the sports channels – lol – so far from the truth!”


Written By Lin Parkin