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Daddy's Home: Why Paid Paternity Leave Matters

Sharon Lerner

Many mornings this year Matt Nuttall and his friend Ryan Faulkner met up in one of several neighborhood parks located between their houses in Pleasant Hill, California. While they changed diapers, dispensed snacks, and made sure their little ones didn’t fall off the playground equipment, the dads “talked to each other in adult,” as Nuttall puts it. Before too long, their children would begin to fade, and they’d head back to their respective houses to prepare lunch and oversee afternoon naps.

“We didn’t do much, just sat around and kept the kids and ourselves from going crazy,” says Nuttall, who teaches ninth- and tenth-grade English at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco. After his wife returned to her job, Nuttall took 12 weeks off from his. For half of that time, he received $945 a week through California’s Paid Family Leave program. The program, which has been in existence since 2004, offers workers up to six weeks off with maximum pay of $1,067 a week to care for a new baby or sick relative.

For Nuttall, the decision to take paid paternity leave, which is funded by deductions from employees’ pay, was a no-brainer. “This is money that comes out of my check every month,” he says. “Not to take advantage of something I’d been paying into the whole time would be foolish.”

While at least 81 countries provide paid paternity leave and all but a handful provide paid maternity leave, the United States has yet to enact any national paid leave. As a result, only about 1 in 20 fathers nationwide takes more than two weeks off after the birth of a child, and only 1 in 100 takes more than four weeks off. But in California, one of three states that has paid family- and medical-leave laws, the percentage of dads taking at least some time off to care for their children is on the rise. (The other two states are New Jersey, where the program is four years old, and Rhode Island, where the law goes into effect next year.)

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