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Eight years ago, our first son was born. Like many, I found becoming a parent to be an amazing, life-changing experience. I was humbled by the realities of this new responsibility and overwhelmed by the love that I had to give.

Nine months of anticipation only partially prepare you for parenthood. Before the birth of your child, you simply do not understand that unconditional connection that you will feel to this new person. With every passing day, you realize how delicate and critical a time it is for your baby’s life —how little milestones are shaping everything to come.

For me and my wife, access to family leave was critical during this time. Unlike the majority of new mothers and fathers in the United States, my wife was able to take paid time off of work to recover from pregnancy and care for our son. And when she returned to her job, I was able to take leave to care for and bond with him for several months. This meant that our son spent the critical early months of his life fully in our care.

Even today, many see fathers taking parental leave as unconventional or unnecessary, but I sincerely hope that one day that changes. I look back at that time as one of the best decisions I ever made – and I feel fortunate to have been able to make it. It was a rare and precious time that brought me closer to my son and set the stage for a lifetime of involvement in his life.

It is important for new dads to know that, just like new moms, they are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid parental leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a newborn – or after placement of a child for adoption or foster care – if they work for an employer with 50 or more employees, and if they work at least 1,250 hours in the year. Some states offer even broader protections.

Unfortunately, many new moms and dads do not qualify for FMLA leave. And many workers who are entitled to leave under the FMLA cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides. It is shocking that there is no federal law that guarantees new moms and dads the paid time they need. No new parent should have to choose between giving their child a healthy and loving start and the job they need to make ends meet.

I was lucky to be able to spend these months with my new son. Life moves so quickly today. Children grow up fast. I will treasure that time, and I will better appreciate the moments ahead because of the strong start that we had.

This post is part of the Fathers on Family Leave Blog and is cross-posted from National Partnership for Women & Families.

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