This is what it looks like when dads get parental leave

Many moons ago I did a political internship at Parliament House. I wrote a paper for Lindsay Tanner, then Member for Melbourne, looking at the worth of paid paternal leave.

Martin Gagner: “I feel guilty about not having been at home with Matilda (4) as much as I am now with Valdemar (1). I worry that my relationship with her will be weaker in the future.”

It was all about comparing the Australian situation with Sweden where half of the very generous paid parental leave provisions must/can only be taken by the father. Today, 480 days of paid leave can be taken by either parent, of which 60 must be taken by the father or else the paid days are lost. So there is a clear disincentive for the father not to take the leave. Yet, still, only 12 per cent of Swedish dads take up the offer.

Ola Larsson: “You almost have to experience parental leave to understand what you lose before you decide to work instead.”

My finding, in the early ‘90s, was that the financial incentives barely made a dint on perceptions of shared parenting and that – yawn – societal change was needed. Which, of course, requires legislative change to kick things off. And, so, I concluded (in handwriting with Liquid Paper corrections because I didn’t have access to a computer for the duration of my schooling) it was going to take time. Such an early ’90s undergraduate conclusion!

Urban North: “My wife and I try to be as equal as possible in our everyday life.”

Well, time has passed. And this week I came across this photo essay by photographer Johan Bävman of images of fatherhood in, yes, Sweden. It would seem there is still resistance to leave the workforce (going by the stats). But it’s lovely to read the comments from the dads photographed that very much express the sense of loss that they’ve felt, or think other dads feel, from not being engaged with their kids early in their lives.

Jonas Feldt: “most children turn to their mum when they are upset, seeking comfort or just need someone to talk to.”

Dads still are not feeling that they have a real choice. They have more to lose (in their eyes) and are not good at adjusting to losing (IMO). Which is understandable. Women have had very good reason over the past 100 years or so to question their gender role; men are only just starting to realize that they lose out if they don’t to start to question theirs. Their gender role is no longer serving them as neatly as it used to. It’s become appropriate to start to look around and see if there are other ways. I think this is wonderful stuff. And these images illustrate the wonder of it all and very much made me feel fired up to support blokes as they step down from their gendered pedestal and get dirty with the kids.

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