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Parenting New parents in Canada will soon get more paid leave. But for fathers, time is just one of the obstacles

parenting

Seeking balance as a working dad

Starting next month, new parents will be eligible for a longer period of paid leave. With luck, that will allow more men to bond with their newborns. But, as Dave McGinn reports, time is just one of the obstacles

Jason Goldlist, general manager at Wealthsimple, reads to his three-year-old son Abe at his office.

Later this month, when his second child is born, Jason Goldlist will be taking two months of parental leave. It's to help care for the little one, of course, but also to set an example at work.

The 31-year-old general manager at Wealthsimple, a Toronto-based online investment manager, only took a couple of weeks away from work when his first child was born in 2015. Back then, the company had 10 or so employees, all working out of a garage.

"Now that we're doing this with, like, 150 people in three offices, you look at your leadership team and there's a tone to be set," says Goldlist, whose company offers a top-up to 100 per cent of salary for the first six months of parental leave. "If we don't use it, then it's not really a benefit we can confidently talk about with our team."

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Fathers who take parental leave usually gush about how important and rewarding it is to spend time with their newborns. But few new Canadian dads, at least outside of Quebec, actually do it. According to Statistics Canada, only 12 per cent of recent fathers in Canada outside Quebec claimed or intended to claim parental leave benefits in 2015. That's basically unchanged over a decade – the number was 11 per cent in 2005.

Last week, the federal government confirmed an election promise: Starting Dec. 3, parents will be entitled to up to 18 months paid leave after the birth of a child. The aim is to encourage more dads to take leave, and it might.

Jason Goldlist will be taking two months of parental leave to set an example at Wealthsimple.

But there are a variety of reasons that fathers are reluctant, including a financial barrier which is now perhaps more acute: The Employment Insurance stipend is only 55 per cent of a parent's salary, now with the option to spread 12 months of assistance out over a year and a half.

Also still in place are various social factors, including moms who want the entire 12 months of EI-assisted time off for themselves and, perhaps most difficult, the stigma faced by fathers at work. More time doesn't solve any of these problems.

That's especially true when the time is available to either parent. Experts say that dedicating a period of leave time specifically for fathers and non-birth parents would do much more to boost the numbers of those taking time off work to help bring up baby.

"When paternity leave is available, and it's exclusively use it or lose it for dads, dads take it in big numbers," says Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family, an Ottawa-based charitable organization.

That's the example out of Quebec, where 86 per cent of recent fathers claimed or intended to claim parental-leave benefits in 2015, up from 28 per cent in 2005. Those numbers skyrocketed after 2006, when Quebec introduced a paternity benefits program that gives fathers three weeks of benefits at 75 per cent of their average weekly insurable earnings, or five weeks at 70 per cent of average insurable earnings, up to a yearly maximum of $71,500.

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Some countries have similar policies, such as Norway, which provides 10 weeks of leave for fathers only, and Sweden, which reserves 90 paid leave days exclusively for each parent, a policy often referred to as the "daddy quota." In all three places, if fathers don't use the time, it's not eligible for moms to take: it's just gone.

Maya Roy, CEO of YWCA Canada, says she would "absolutely" have liked to see the federal government include dedicated paternity leave time in the new rules. "The more men are encouraged to access paternity leave, that opens up opportunities for moms, for working moms," Roy says. "And it brings the conversation forward between partners around 'What does this partnership look like?'"

That conversation has tangible consequences. A 2015 study of Quebec fathers who took paternity leave concluded that the program "had a large and persistent impact on gender dynamics within households even years after the leave period ended."

In particular, the time dads spent on daily housework was 23 per cent higher than new dads outside the province, even years after their paternity leave was up, while their partners spent more time in paid work.

Promoting gender equality is unquestionably good, but many fathers who have taken parental leave say they did it for more reasons that sharing the workload at home.

"It was my opportunity to learn how to be a dad," says Chris Farley-Ratcliffe, a 42-year-old father of three who took leave with his first two children when he worked for the Ontario provincial government, which provided an EI top-up that made it financially viable.

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Aside from the financial hit of not earning a full salary, men have traditionally earned more than their wives in the past, giving an economic sense for dads to keep working. But that, too, is changing. "Increasingly, moms are earning more than dads," Spinks says.

Toronto marketing manager Michael Cusden wasn't able to take any leave when his first child was born. "My wife wanted all the time," he says. But he took six months when his second child came along: After an entire year with their first child, she was happy to split the time with their second.

"I enjoyed taking over the home," Cusden says. "What I liked about it was it was my thing. It's not like my wife left a note and said, 'You have to do it this way.'"

Samir Basaria, an environmental scientist who works for the federal government, took three months of parental leave when his son Noah was born in 2010.

"It's really the time to really engage and be a parent and learn all about this stuff," he says. "Plus, you fall in love with your kid when you're home 24/7 with them. For me, it was beautiful. It was great. We just bonded."

Samir Basaria, an environmental scientist who works for the federal government, took three months of parental leave when his son Noah was born in 2010.

Harder to combat than eager moms is the social stigma ingrained across much of Canada's corporate landscape, where requesting parental leave is interpreted as a lack of commitment to one's career. While women have been battling that for decades, it's a relatively new fight for men.

Spencer Callaghan, a 41-year-old communications manager who lives in Ottawa, says he would have loved to take leave from the startup he was working at when his first child was born in 2010. But he never felt comfortable asking.

"In that world, you're expected to work as much as humanly possible," he says. (He was laid off just before the birth of his second child, making leave a moot point).

But Spinks believes that the stigma around men taking leave, both in the tech world and the broader corporate culture, is changing. Younger men are more interested in taking leave and companies are having to accommodate them. "The professional services sector is one of the leaders with respect to young men," she says, noting that there is less research on which sectors are farthest behind.

‘I’m super excited to build a relationship with my little guy,’ Goldlist says of his coming parental leave.

In the financial services, KPMG offers new fathers and adoptive parents four weeks of paid parental leave. Deloitte offers fathers an option of either three weeks of paid time away from work at 100 per cent of their salary or a six-week top up of their Employment Insurance benefits to 100 per cent of salary.

Goldlist's coming leave from Wealthsimple is another example of that change. The average age of people on the team is 32 years old, he says, which is part of the reason he wants to set precedent.

That said, being an early adopter is obviously not what Goldlist most looks forward to with his opportunity to take parental leave. "I'm super excited to build a relationship with my little guy," he says.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly said Sweden reserves 90 paid leave days just for dads. In fact, it is for any parent other than the birth parent.
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