Okay, before you get too far into this I need to explain that the title of this post contains two white lies. First, this is not an “ode”. I had to look up the definition of “ode” after writing the title and I can assure you that this is not a lyrical poem by any stretch of the imagination. Second, I didn’t really go without money for 12 weeks. I did, however, not get paid for 8 of those 12 weeks. With that said, let’s get to why I’m writing this and how this applies to dads (and moms, too).
If you’re an expecting dad employed in the United States of America, I want you to know how it is possible for you to spend 12 glorious weeks away from work to bond with your newborn child. Please note that “glorious” applies only when you and baby are happy – it does not apply during 3AM feedings. I’d also like to help shed any negative association there is with dads taking time off to spend with their newborn children. Although our grandparents may have left the childrearing to women, it’s 2019 and dads are allowed to show equal amounts of love and affection. I do believe it is necessary to acknowledge that the stigmas I face as a dad are pale in comparison to those that mothers face in the workplace. If you interact with working moms, I encourage you to engage in conversation with them about my last sentence as an opportunity to learn more about their experiences.
My wife, Tiffany, gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Callie, in late January of this year. As you can imagine, this was one of the best days of my life. It was also one of the scariest for a number of reasons. As much as I wanted to shirk off any feelings of anxiety associated with being responsible for a life other than my own (I am a dude, after all), it hit me as I watched my wife endure 33 hours of hospital-induced labor only to be told we’d need to have a c-section. There’s a much longer story there, but this post isn’t about that. Nonetheless, let the record show that my wife is Mother of Dragon’s walking-through-fire strong (for all of you Game of Thrones fans out there). As soon as Callie was born, I was scared but also incredibly excited to spend the next 12 weeks of my life with my newborn daughter and recovering wife, all without having to work. How’d I get 12 weeks off of work, you ask? The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of course!
Set Smart Limits
Per the Department of Labor’s website, “FMLA provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year.”. This leave may be used for a variety of reasons including the care of a newborn child, placements of children for adoption or foster care, or to care for yourself or a family member with a serious medical condition. There are several other qualifiers here including the size of your employer and your length of service with/hours worked for your current employer. You can find all of that info here. Many people who learn about FMLA typically stop listening after the bit about it being unpaid. I mean, without pay, what’s the benefit? Well, for me it meant I was able to go 12 weeks without working to spend with my newborn daughter. So how’d I make that happen?
Keystone Light. Yup, you read that right. I successfully incorporated cheap beer into an “ode” about parental leave. So how did Keystone Light help me prepare for 12 unpaid weeks with my newborn daughter? It’s not the Keystone Light, rather, our decision to cut back on our expenses. We opted to go without or purchase less expensive items so that we had money to put into savings for a rainy 12 weeks. We did have 9 months to prepare, after all. As soon as we found out that we were expecting, we put most of our discretionary spending on hold and saved like crazy! It also helped that the organization I work for offers 3 weeks of paid leave to new dads and I used one week of my own paid time off to supplement those 12 weeks. All-in-all, I needed to come up with enough cash to cover expenses for the remaining 8 weeks I wasn’t getting paid. Oh, and did I mention that my wife took a total of 4 unpaid months off of work? Add that to the list of “money that’s not coming in”.
You may be reading this and thinking to yourself “There’s no way I can do that with two car loans, a mortgage, credit card payments, and student loans!”. Well, I would agree. If that is you and you’re 9 months away from having a child, you likely won’t be able to save enough to cover 12 weeks of time away from work. However, if you’re not yet expecting but want kids in your future, I recommend you come up with a plan that will allow you to do this! Please rid yourself of all of your debt and follow that with saving like a crazy person. It took us three years to become debt free by following the steps outlined in Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover. Once we did that, we funded a 3 month emergency fund and then saved up enough to cover my 8 unpaid weeks plus my wife’s 4 unpaid months! I don’t care how you do it. Just save money so you can spend time with your kid!
Onto the stigma part. Depending on where you work, you might receive crazy awesome support! You might get the opposite. I’ve had other dads tell me that I’d want to come back to work after a week. Others have told me that if I worked with them, I’d be laughed out of the joint for taking that much time off to spend with my daughter. I’ve had others who’ve told me I’m fortunate to be able to afford to take the unpaid time off. What I’ve gathered is that I’m the exception and that my experience is not to be sought out or isn’t attainable. I’m here to tell you otherwise.
Be vigilant about safety. Babyproof your home thoroughly, and never leave a child under 5 in the tub alone. Make sure car seats are installed correctly, and insist that your child wear a helmet when riding his bike or scooter.
These past 12 weeks have been the best of my life. I’ve been able to truly bond with my daughter and support my wife in a way that I wasn’t able to while working 50+ hour weeks. I’ve also been able to have a casual beer at lunch because I don’t have to go back to the office! In all seriousness, I feel that I have a much stronger relationship with the two most important women in my world because I made the decision to plan for this season in our lives. It’s my hope that my story encourages others to do the same so that they can have a similar experience, minus the Keystone Light.
Written By: Mike Condupa - Husband, Dad, and HR Professional