By David Milender
MASON, OHIO – While I was glad to get five days of paid leave for the birth of my son, it was still a frustratingly short amount of time. When my wife, Kaitlin, gave birth to our son, George, one Monday in January 2016, I confirmed with my boss that I would be starting my paid parental leave period that day. The company I worked at the time for allowed five paid days off for new parents.
Welcoming George into the world was a whirlwind experience, and too soon, our family of three were back home from the hospital. The next few days were a blur as we adjusted to life with an infant. My wife had six weeks of reduced pay leave from work through short term disability, but we felt neither of us was allowed nearly enough paid time off with our son.
Back in the office the following Monday, I obsessively checked my phone to make sure George and Kaitlin were doing well. Sitting through monotonous conference calls and in traffic commuting to work felt like a dreadful waste compared to the time I could have been spending with my wife and son. Five days off for the biggest event of our lives was woefully inadequate.
Kaitlin’s leave likewise flew by. Finding a good daycare for our weeks-old son was a harrowing experience, as we had to balance what we could afford with what was safe. While he is a healthy child and the daycare staff had the best intentions, I will never forget the guilt and regret I felt from having to leave my fragile weeks-old son in the care of strangers.
That spring, my employer updated its employee handbook. I studiously read the new document, and a section on family leave stood out. That afternoon I informed my supervisor that I would like to apply for additional time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as a new parent.
The application process was a learning experience for everyone. My supervisors initially stated that as I was not a new mother, I may not qualify for FMLA leave. After some back and forth over email and consulting the new HR manual and federal regs, they allowed me to apply through our corporate office and humbly apologized, explaining that in all their time overseeing 100+ employees, they had never had a father try to take leave under the FMLA. I was the first one in the office to do so.
My FMLA request was approved, and we disenrolled George from daycare. On my last day in the office before taking leave, another co-worker approached me, explaining that his fiancé was due to give birth soon. Then he asked, “So how do you get them to give you more time off? I thought dads only get a week.”
The FMLA leave was unpaid, and we had to practice the art of frugality. Fortunately, Kaitlin had a full-time job, and I was able to keep George and I enrolled on my company’s insurance through my leave. Cutting out daycare expenses saved us a small fortune, but I still spent plenty of time cutting coupons and comparing ads while George got in his naps.
Still, we nonetheless depleted my savings.
Regardless of the cost, the twelve weeks I spent with George were amazing. I will never regret taking that time to watch him grow and explore the world around him. Nothing could replace being there when he rolled over for the first time or taking him for walks around the neighborhood in those first warm days of late spring.