As a father, the two most important things Scott Behson feels you can do is be a constant presence in your child’s life and be remembered for being a constant presence.
Mr. Behson, a management professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, father of a nine-year-old son, and blogger on fathers, work and family, says that today’s dads should be around, changing diapers and handling the other unglamorous aspects of raising a child. But in addition, fathers need to build in little packets of joy, such as Tuesday evening dad-and-son bike rides or Friday family nights, which will create the memories cherished down the road and remind the child of that constant presence.
His own father probably didn’t change diapers, but he was around. However, really special was his pop’s role as coach of the Little League team. “I’ll remember that more than helping me with my homework or showing me how to brush my teeth. Summer was baseball with my dad,” he recalled in an interview.
That fits with availability bias, a concept he teaches to his management students: Giving preference, as a decision maker, to more recent or memorable information and events. Like his own father, he coaches son Nick’s Little League team and when his actress wife, Amy, is working evenings, often father and son will be at the local pool or watching minor league baseball.
It’s also why he is a strong proponent of parental leave, to help fathers set the right balance early in their children’s lives. Maternity leave has been the historic norm, as women recover from pregnancy and childbirth but also bond and care for the youngster. But more men are realizing they also need to take time off work to bond with their children – being a constant presence very early in life.
A recent survey in the United States by the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that 89 per cent of fathers indicated it was important for employers to provide paid paternity or paid parental leave – with 60 per cent rating it very/extremely important. The respondents tended to support two to four weeks of leave, which balanced their need to be active co-parents with their need to be important contributors at work. On average, fathers took approximately two weeks off after the birth of their children.
Mr. Behson says paternity leave is vital for fathers to establish an equal relationship in child care. He notes that if just the mother takes time off work, she will understand the baby better. Then after she goes back to work, even if the couple are dedicated to sharing the child care, when the baby gets fussy she will say, “‘Oh, you can’t handle the baby. He always cries when you carry him.’ Or at bedtime she will say, ‘I know how to calm the baby and put him to sleep.’ And the man becomes occasional help.”
Mr. Behson recently attended a White House summit on working families. He looks to Canada – and especially Quebec – as more successful than his own country in developing programs friendly to fathers. Through the employment insurance program, Canadian men or women are able to claim 55 per cent of their average weekly earnings up to a maximum amount. The Quebec Parental Insurance Plan has specific paternity benefits, available exclusively for the father of the baby, which is considered the best approach. That’s because there is pressure on the father to take time off and claim the benefit or the money becomes unavailable to the family. Mr. Behson said that combats social pressure on men to stay at work – in a sense, they have an excuse to give to their boss and folks in the workplace who view it as wrong for men to take paternity leave.
“Canada is more generous than many other countries. As a country, the United States is way behind. We’re one of only four countries in the world with no national parental leave, and the only developed country,” he said. The individual states aren’t much better, with only three having programs for parental leave, none as adequate as Canada’s.
While momentum is with the notion of paternity leave – at least among individual fathers in the United States, if not governments and corporations – there is still blow-back. Earlier this year, three sports radio broadcasters blasted New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy for taking a two-game paternity leave upon the birth of his first child. Mr. Murphy was taking advantage of a program for up to a three-game break that Major League Baseball enacted in 2011, with almost 100 players using it in the interval. Still, Mr. Behson noted, “Over all, the reaction was ‘You radio people are crazy and he should be there for his baby.’ That’s progress – we see part of being a man and a father is being there for your wife and child.”
He likes to comment on examples from the celebrity world because he feels it has an impact with the broader public. “Hey, if Prince William took parental leave, maybe it’s okay,” he declared.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter