"Which one of you is 'Dad'?" If we had a nickel for every time we have been asked that question or some variation of it, Kyle and I would have a healthy head start on our son's college fund.
For some people, the question comes from simply trying to understand how our son will refer to each of his fathers. For others, particularly those with limited exposure to families like ours, it's about identifying who will be "the mom" and who will be "the dad." That might seem silly to some readers, but I get it. We're a nation that places a high value on ascribing roles, many of which are gender-based. So when Americans are confronted with a situation where those roles don't apply, it throws us off.
I think that's particularly true in the workplace, where today's families navigate a process historically referred to as "maternity leave," a term that really doesn't apply to (a) adoptive families or (b) same-sex families where the couple happens to be male. Of course, Kyle and I brought both circumstances to the table.
We were pretty fortunate. Between the two of us, we were able to be home and bond with our son for more than three months before finding a caretaker and returning to work full-time. But it wasn't easy. Kyle works for a Fortune 500 company, and while it offers several weeks of paid leave for birth mothers, it, like 83 percent of U.S. companies, offers no paid leave for adoptive parents, and that applies not just to gay couples but to anyone. And, like most American companies, his offers no paid leave for fathers.
My company handles it differently. All employees, regardless of the makeup of their families, receive three weeks of paid parental leave. Adoptive families receive an additional week because of the travel that's often associated with adoption (as in our case). Furthermore, my company provides a subsidy to put toward the cost of adopting a child. The message here is clear: All families -- biological, adoptive, same-sex -- deserve equal treatment.
And all parents deserve equal treatment as well. Setting aside adoption for a moment, the sad reality, as reported in the 2012 National Study of Employers, is that only 14 percent of new dads received paid leave.
What message does that send about the importance we place on the role of fathers in this country? As the Society for Human Resource Management points out in a recent study, more working fathers are struggling to find the right balance between meeting demands at work and expanding their roles at home than we have seen in the past. Men are embracing their roles as parents more than ever before. Shouldn't we encourage that? And where better to start than during the first weeks of their children's lives?
The dynamic is changing. Women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners in their families. More men are stay-at-home dads. Both moms play catch. And both dads do the laundry. Just as women must continue to fight for equality and fair pay in the workplace, men and adoptive families need to continue to push in that same workplace for equality at home. While Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer deserves credit for implementing a new family leave policy, it is time for us as a nation to rethink how we view family roles and update workplace policies to account for the new modern family, whatever that may be.
And for those of you who are still looking for an answer to the original question, Kyle is "Daddy," and I'm "Papa," though, according to what we've been told, it doesn't matter what name we come up with, because Alexander will come up with his own. Here's hoping we're good enough parents that whatever he comes up with is fit for print!
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