I can still smell the steak that my dad grilled one night during my teenage years. He was a little bit obsessed with making this one lemon rice dish, but overall it was the perfect complement to any main dish- not so flavorful as to compete, but more exciting than plain rice. Nothing tasted better than his perfect tuna fish sandwich on fresh sourdough bread-even for dinner. His gazpacho was, and still is, to die for.
My dad, now a septuagenarian, has worked as the Director of Clinical Education and as a law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent Law School for as long as I can remember.
On top of his busy, albeit more-flexible-than-some job, he took on an enormous number of home responsibilities when my twin brother and I were growing up. This included cooking many dinners, planning dinners for the babysitter to make when he or my mom weren’t home in time to cook, meeting the repair people during the day and talking through many a paper and math problem at night. Despite this juggling act, I cannot think of one time when my dad- or my mom- had to miss our regular weeknight family dinner at 6:30 p.m.
This is an especially poignant thought as I sit in my office at 7:22 pm, missing my own family dinner. Here is what just happened. My twelve-year-old son called to check in on my whereabouts, and when I told him I was still at work writing my blog, he told me I should just stay and finish it. There are many reasons that he felt okay about my not being home for dinner (including that I don’t have a great track record of being in a good mood when I force myself to come home mid-stream on a time-pressured project). I guarantee you, however, he wouldn’t have felt so okay if my husband had not already been home- and with dinner cooked to boot.
While I cannot say that my husband is home every night for dinner or even that our division of labor is 50-50, his major contributions to our home and kids are crucial to my job success. My dad’s willingness- and capacity- to do his share of our home chores similarly enabled my mom to perform her busy job as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and feel good about it.
What is a secret to having a husband who puts in his time at home? One answer is paternity leave. As Liza Mundy explains in her article in the Atlantic “Daddy Track: The Case for Paternity Leave”:
“Paternity leave is a chance to intervene at what one study called ‘a crucial time of renegotiation’: those early, sleep-deprived weeks of diaper changes and midnight feedings, during which couples fall into patterns that turn out to be surprisingly permanent.”
Progress on paternity leave in this country is slow, but we are moving in the right direction. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 allows a worker to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for various family-related reasons, including becoming a new dad (or mom). But the majority of American workers are not covered under this Act since it applies only to employers with 50 or more employees, and you have to have worked for your employer a certain length of time before you are eligible. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2012 FMLA surveys, only 22% of Americans are using FMLA for parental leave. Paid paternity leave is gradually becoming a reality, such as in states like California, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Silicon Valley is ahead of the curve as usual, with Google offering men seven weeks of paid leave; Yahoo, eight; and Facebook, 17!
You are probably thinking- surely this was not behind my father’s home habits. Paternity leave wasn’t even a concept in 1969.
But I had my suspicions, so I called my dad and asked him. Here is what he said:
"Let's put it this way- I took a lot of time regularly. No, I did not take any specific time off when you and Adam [my twin] were born. But I did take a lot of time off. I could do that because my job gave me flexibility."
When considering how to improve the life of a working mom, we must not forget the importance of a supportive dad.
This blog originally appeared on February 6, 2014 as part of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's blog series, "Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century." #DoubleBooked deals with the many issues that affect working families, and features everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.