Paternity Leave Often Surprises Dads

Fathers Still Wonder How They'll Stay Involved in Raising Kids

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So Fathers & Families thinks Arnold Worldwide is anti-male, creating advertising that demeans dads? Jamie Reiley, an interactive designer at the Boston agency -- and a father himself -- might disagree with that accusation.
Mr. Reiley, 31, is among those male adfolk who have benefited from paid paternity leaves. At Arnold alone last year, 25 staffers took paternity leave.

The benefits of Mr. Reiley's respite from his job might seem a bit banal -- time to get the laundry done and cook dinner for his wife. But it was also about having time to step back and enjoy the big things, such as sitting on the couch in the middle of the afternoon, stretching out his 6-foot-7-inch frame, comparing his size-15 feet to the little toes of his newborn daughter, Paige. Then there was seeing that first smile at 2 a.m. while pulling night duty without worrying about getting up early to head into work.

"As a first-time parent, I was trying to figure out what's going on and learn [Paige's] cues," Mr. Reiley said, something he gleaned through countless feedings and diaper changes.

'Fathers' movement'
Talk-show host Glenn Sacks is spearheading a drive by what he calls the "fathers' movement," including the Fathers & Families group, urging Volvo not to pick Arnold to handle its $150 million global account. They contend Arnold has created advertising that's anti-father.

Within the ranks of Arnold, however, Mr. Reiley took two weeks of paid leave and then had the option to work four-day weeks for the next 12 weeks without a cut in pay. The extra day helped: "It was basically to give my wife some break," he said.

Once the dominion of working mothers, leave benefits have swept through the ad industry. Many shops are offering fathers at least two weeks' paid vacation -- despite no legal requirement to do so -- with many agencies adding the benefits in the mid-'90s. That's much more enlightened than corporate America in general, where less than 14% of companies offer paternity leave.

Less BlackBerry, more BabyBjorn
Paternity leave is helping spawn a new breed of adman: less BlackBerry and more BabyBjorn as they take time off after the birth of their offspring, though it's still difficult for new dads to adjust their focus.

"I was a little reluctant considering the stereotype of the big agency with the big-name clients and the way everyone says big ad agencies work," Mr. Reiley said, "but they embrace parenting and know you are an individual with a life outside work."
When Howard Klein, 40, senior VP-director of customer-specific marketing at DraftFCB, Chicago, took four weeks off when his daughter Natalie was born, his biggest worry was "keeping up with what was going on" at work.

"I don't work on a piece of business where we are working on the same project year after year. I could have 25 different projects going on at one time. I also had nine people who reported up to me," he said.

Balancing business and baby
Mr. Klein quickly learned that checking messages and answering e-mails during his paternity leave was possible and important to keep things moving smoothly at work.

"If everything is going well, your child sleeps 18 hours a day," he said. "There is downtime, and you can blend the two worlds and not have them collide with each other. What surprised me is you can do both -- you can be a loving father, a good husband, but then totally not disconnect yourself from your work."

He said he got support from all of his clients, who were also parents. "They were like, 'You've got to do it.'"

This all sounds good for those seeking a better balance than the baby boomers' "work is all" mind-set. Paternity leave, however, might not be a great recruitment tool just yet. Even though all the fathers interviewed by "Business of Life" took at least four weeks off, none of them were aware of a paid-paternity benefit before the stork got its assignment.

"It wasn't even in my mind when I joined," said Tom O'Donnell, 37, a product-information manager at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, which offered him three weeks of paid "family bonding" time. "It sounded a little suspect."

Planning for Lola
When his daughter Lola was born seven months ago, Mr. O'Donnell added two weeks of vacation time and took five weeks off. He came back for a few months and took another eight weeks off beginning in mid-November, courtesy of the state of California, which in 2004 began a plan offering residents partial pay for paternity leave.

"The entire agency was super-supportive; there wasn't a question of hassle in the whole process," Mr. O'Donnell said. "I listened to a lot of dads who wished they had taken the time off themselves."

It's even gotten to the point where the dads' deals can be better than the moms'. John Clementi, an associate print producer at DDB Worldwide, Chicago, jumped at the chance to take four weeks, a mix of paid leave and vacation, for the birth of his daughter Lily, especially considering his wife worked for a small firm that didn't offer leave and had to take a combination of vacation time and a pay cut for the three months she took off.

In fact, he was surprised by the benefit. His co-workers were supportive. "They have children and know how important it is," he said.

Even though Mr. Clementi had worked at the agency for nearly four years, he wasn't aware of the benefit until he ran into someone from human resources in the hall and started talking about it. Despite enjoying the time off to bond with his daughter as a newborn, Mr. Clementi finds his life harder to balance now, considering his 18-month-old goes to sleep by 7:30 at night and he doesn't usually get home until 6:45.

"I don't have much time with her during the week," he said. "It's a half-hour in the morning and a half-hour at night."

Not a parenting panacea
Jeffrey Levine, an executive coach who often works with fathers struggling to balance their work and home lives, warns that paternity leave is not a cure-all as dads chase that faraway place where everything has achieved that proverbial balance.

"The real question dads deal with is after the paternity leave," Mr. Levine said. "When the baby is around for a while and starts turning into a real person, how do you stay involved in the raising of your kids?"

Mr. Levine worked as a copywriter in Los Angeles at Ogilvy & Mather and Grey Advertising when his now 19-year-old daughter was a toddler. He left the agency world because he viewed it as "incompatible with my role as a father. My experience was it's a really bad fit -- if you don't come in on Saturday, don't bother coming in on Sunday." And don't even think about showing up on Monday.

And where do moms fit into all this corporate paternalism? Vincent DiCaro, director of public affairs at the National Fatherhood Initiative, said the flipside often not considered by companies when deciding whether to offer paid paternity benefits is how far those benefits can go toward helping working mothers, who might be more willing to return to the office if they had help at home. The group works with companies such as IBM Corp. and Verizon on work/life balance for fathers.

"Typically in the past," he said, "the entire burden of taking care of the home front with new children fell on mom, and it was holding women back from pursuing their careers."
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