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​Daddy's home: Embracing paternity leave

According to the U.N., 71 countries offer paid leave for new fathers, but the U.S. isn't one of them
Taking parental leave, if you even get it 08:41

With gifts and cards and maybe a dinner out, millions of Americans are honoring their dads today, realizing that tomorrow many dads will head out the door and back to another busy work week that allows for precious little family time. No wonder a growing number of new dads are embracing the opportunity to briefly enjoy an alternate lifestyle where daddy's home. Lee Cowan reports our Cover Story:

Scott Brodrick may be the best one-handed sandwich maker around. That bundle in his other hand is the family's newly-adopted son, Shea.

When they brought him home last month, Scott decided to do something that most fathers in this country simple can't do: He's staying home from work for six weeks so he can soak up plenty of father-son moments.

"He won't remember these times, but I certainly will," said Scott. "And yeah, it's been great bonding time for us."

His company, PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Chicago, has a policy toward new fathers that is generous, to say the least. That month-and-a-half Scott's getting? It's all paid.

Cowan asked, "What do other dads tell you when you tell them how much time you got?"

"Jaws hit the floor," said Scott. "It's an unbelievable policy, and really rare for the father to be able to take six weeks off."

According to the United Nations, 71 countries offer paid leave for new fathers, but the U.S. isn't one of them. The U.S. also lags behind in paid leave for mothers. In fact, we're one of only TWO countries in the world that doesn't offer it. (The other is Papua New Guinea.)

There have been some changes on the issue. In 1993, President Clinton signed into the law the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. It grants up to 12 weeks of leave, but that's unpaid, and it's only offered to full-time workers at firms with 50 or more employees. They also have to work more than 1,200 hours in a 12-month period.

That leaves an estimated 40 percent of workers out of luck.

Mark Winiarski, who works as a teacher in Connecticut for special needs kids, just had his second daughter, Hannah, last month. Although he was eligible to take leave under the FMLA, 12 weeks without a paycheck, he says, just wasn't realistic.

"Legally I could have, but financially there's no way we could have done that," he told Cowan. "There's no way."

Instead, Mark had to stitch together his paternity leave. "It's really comes down to vacation time for me because that's my only option," said Mark.

He's taking all his paid vacation and sick days combined. That will give him at least a few weeks at home with Hannah and his wife, Sarah.

He did the same thing when their first daughter, Grace, was born, and he says it was worth every second.

"She sees me and she drops what she's doing and she runs over and says, 'Daddy!' and gives me a huge hug, and there's absolutely nothing that can take away that feeling. It's just really special."

There is growing evidence to suggest that fathers who do take time off after their child's birth are more likely to be involved with the care of their kids over the long term.

A Boston College study shows most dads take an average of about two weeks. But there are many dads who worry taking even that much time off might have adverse effects on their careers.

"There's still this stigma that men are breadwinners, that they have to be providing for their families and not necessarily caring for their children," said Vicki Shabo, vice president of the non-profit National Partnership for Women & Families. She says there's plenty of workplace pressure that makes it harder for dads to feel comfortable taking parental leave, whether it's paid or unpaid.

Daniel Murphy, second baseman for the New York Mets, was roundly criticized last spring when he missed the first two games of the season because he took just three days of paternity leave after the birth of his son.

"Our culture needs to catch up to where people's lives are, and where fathers' and mothers' interests are in terms of a man's engagement in their household," said Shabo.

It is, of course, moms who usually end up taking the bulk of family leave, but they, too, often end up using every vacation and sick day they have (if they have them at all).

Miyonna Bennett hadn't worked at her company long enough to quality for any leave before she got pregnant with her second son, Jacob.

"I was thinking that maybe I'll get fired," she laughed, "and when I had my baby I won't have my job."

To put a little extra in savings, she worked up until just two days before she gave birth.

"Even when I had him, I was so exhausted to the point where someone else had to lift my baby up and show him to me because I was so tired, I was so tired," Miyonna said.

She had to be back to work the following month.

"How hard was that?" asked Cowan.

"Very hard," she replied. "The hardest part was leaving my baby with people that I barely knew. I feel like I didn't have time to bond with him at all."

Whether its moms or dads, last month a CBS News/New York Times poll showed 80 percent of those surveyed are in favor of requiring employers to offer some kind of paid leave to new parents.

President Obama, who grew up largely without his father, pushed for paid leave in his State of the Union speech this year: "It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or as a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us."

In response, Democrats re-introduced a bill called the Family Act that would offer three months of paid leave at 66 percent of a worker's salary, up to a certain amount.

Critics, like Elizabeth Milito, senior executive council at the National Federation of Independent Business, say most employers already offer paid sick leave and vacation days. Requiring companies to offer more paid leave on top of that to take care of a new child is going to cost someone, somewhere.

"They can't just pass it onto consumers," she told Cowan. "What is it going to mean? It's probably going to mean lower wages for the employees, so you're going to hurt the very people you're trying to help. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul."

But proponents point to success at the state level.

California passed the country's first paid leave law back in 2002, offering workers six weeks of paid leave at up to 55 percent of their wages.

It's employee-funded, through a payroll tax, not employer-funded, and so far, the majority of California employers -- 91 percent, in one study -- reported the law has had either a positive or no noticeable effect on company profitability.

"It disproves sort of 'the sky is falling' refrain that we always hear from organized business interests," said Vicki Shabo of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

New Jersey and Rhode Island have since followed California's lead, and Shabo says at least 18 other states had bills introduced for paid leave in the last legislative session.

No law is going to make a person a better parent, but most agree there are ways to make being one a little easier.

And for dads (on this day in particular), that can go a long way.

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