After being inundated with news reports of male public figures behaving badly, Father’s Day gave us a much-needed opportunity to turn attention to the many fathers and husbands who work tirelessly to support their families — and to call on elected officials to move policies that allow all men to be good fathers, sons and husbands without being punished for it at work.
First, we saw Mark Kelly take time off from his space training to be at the bedside of his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as she recovered from the traumatic shooting.
Then, in a more celebratory moment, Colby Lewis and Ian Desmond told the baseball league and fans that while they loved the game, the birth of a child warranted missing one or two.
Happily but not surprisingly, the Texas Rangers are still in first place, and the Endeavor shuttle launch was a success.
The iconic photos of Mark Kelly camped out at Gabrielle Giffords’ bedside and holding her hand offer poignant evidence that men, as well as women, respond to a loved one’s crisis by wanting to be right by that person’s side.
Scientific evidence demonstrates that the presence of these men is not just sentimental or symbolic. Babies whose fathers have been more actively involved with their care score higher on a key infant development test and are more socially responsive. A year later, these babies show more resilience when faced with stressful situations.
Similarly, the involvement of loved ones is critical to the recovery of brain trauma patients. According to Dr. Stephan Mayer, director of the Neurological Intensive Care Unit at Columbia University Medical Center, “the common denominator is a present, loving and supportive family. I can’t say how important it is to have your loved ones around you helping you battle through.”
It’s awesome that these men were able to take time off to support their wives and welcome their babies into this world, and they could do it all without worrying about their job. But the policies that allowed these high-profile and high-powered fathers and husbands to be with their families at critical junctures are sorely lacking for most the dads who are working hard to support their families.
Consider this: the law allowing men to take family leave covers only half the country’s workers. Of those who have it, many cannot afford to take it because the time is unpaid.
Two in five private sector workers have no paid sick days, and the vast majority of workers who do are not allowed to use the time to care for a sick family member.
Without paid sick days or paid family leave, which are policies in nearly every other country around the world, too many of our dads miss the births of their children and are unable to stay home to care for their kids when they’re sick because of the fear of losing their job, or being unable to miss a day’s wages.
In this season of commemorating fathers and mothers, leaders across the country have a chance to give families a really meaningful gift: support for policies that allow men to be caregivers as well as breadwinners.
Recently, Gov. Dan Malloy signed the country’s first statewide law letting workers earn paid sick days that they can use for their own illness or that of a family member. City Council members in Philadelphia are considering a similar bill, and may be joined this year by decision-makers in Seattle and New York and voters in Denver.
In other states and cities across the country, leaders are realizing that paid sick days is a policy that’s good for the public health, good for working families and good for the economy. And members of Congress can sign on to the Healthy Families Act, a national paid sick days bill re-introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.
Congress can also support the president’s inclusion of $23 million in the federal budget for grants to states to help establish family leave insurance funds that will ensure men and women are able to afford to take care of themselves and their families after the birth of a child or during longer term illnesses. This policy is also gaining traction: California and New Jersey have established programs, Washington has passed one; several others are exploring paid family leave insurance.
Few men can throw a ball 90 miles an hour or hurtle into space at 17,500 miles an hour. But all our dads are working hard, and they deserve time to be loving family members.
Ellen Bravo is Executive Director of Family Values @ Work Consortium, a network of 15 state coalitions working for policies like paid sick days and paid family leave. Dan Mulhern teaches at Cal Berkeley and works with the Families and Work Institute (he’s married to former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm).