Alexis Ohanian wants you to talk to your boss about taking your full paternity leave — and you can tell them he sent you.
That’s what the Initialized Capital and Reddit cofounder said in an essay he wrote for NYT Parenting published on Monday, in which he described how taking 16 weeks of leave after the birth of his child, Olympia, was “crucial.”
“After my wife nearly died giving birth, I spent months at home caring for my family,” he opens, referring to the dangerous complications his wife, tennis star Serena Williams, experienced following childbirth.
“Every dad should be empowered to do the same.”
He said that 16 weeks of paid paternity leave was the policy at Reddit in 2017, at the time of Olympia’s birth, though the policy was originally not his idea.
However, he took the full 16 weeks after Williams underwent an emergency C-section and “spent days in recovery fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms.”
“When we came home with our baby girl, Serena had a hole in her abdomen that needed bandage changes daily. She was on medication. She couldn’t walk,” he said.
“Serena and I were lucky enough to have help at home and many other advantages working in our favor. But even with all of that privilege, including my ability to focus solely on my family and not worry about keeping my job, it was still incredibly difficult.
“Nothing could have dragged me away from my wife and daughter in those hours, days and weeks — and I’m grateful that I was never forced to choose between my family and my job.”
According to Ohanian, only 9% of employers in the US offer paid paternity leave to all male employees.
He added that 76% of fathers return to work within a weekafter the birth or adoption of a child.
Ohanian acknowledged that modern work culture “makes it difficult” to take more leave — his own father used a vacation day when he was born in 1983.
Many don’t because of the stigma Ohanian believes still exists around men making the money.
“Men are conditioned to be breadwinners, exclusively — and another mouth to feed calls for more bread on the table (to say nothing of college tuition) — so off to work we go,” he wrote. “Our sense of duty is often fear-based: Men assume their bosses will frown on paternity leave, so we don’t dare to go there.”
Studies have shown that some men think taking leave may cause them to miss out on a promotion, while others even think they may get fired.
However, Ohanian is adamant that “taking leave pays off.”
“It’s continued to pay dividends for me two years later,” he said.
Not only did spending time with his newborn give him “confidence that I could figure this whole parenting thing out,” but it also got him off on “the right foot for sharing parental responsibilites.”
“Two years later, there is no stigma in our house about me changing diapers, feeding Olympia, doing her hair or anything else I might need to do in a pinch,” he said. “They’re all just dad things (not ‘babysitter’ things — I hate it when people refer to dads spending time with their kids as babysitting).”
He went on: “The understanding of my responsibility to care for my family that I gained during those first months after Olympia’s birth has never left me, and it gives purpose to my fatherhood today. It’s not always easy — my wife’s job takes her all over the world, as does mine — but I will do whatever I can, even if it means taking a dreaded red-eye or making a 24-hour international trip, to optimize time with Olympia and Serena.”
“No dad should feel forced to wholly prioritize work over family at a time as important as the arrival of a new baby — a time that is not only critical in the beginning, but has far-reaching impact years down the line,” he added. “Getting dads (and in turn, families) off on the right foot begins at birth, and it can’t just be up to individual businesses to ensure that happens.”
Ohanian called for a “federal bill that mandates quality paid family leave for everyone — birth parents, adoptive parents and caregivers alike.”
Until then, he’s encouraging men to speak to their employer.
“I took my full 16 weeks and I’m still ambitious and care about my career,” he said. “Talk to your bosses and tell them I sent you.”
Originally published on Business Insider.
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