Confusing Vacation And… Paternity Lead?? C’mon Bro’!

“How was your vacation?”

If you’re asking me about last week, I’d say, great. We went to Arizona, and we hiked around the Sonoran desert, ate some great meals.

If you’re asking me or anyone after returning from family leave, different answer.

Before I left, I spoke with a father expecting his second child. He had already told his company that he intended to take his 5 months of paid paternity leave – and told them 4 months before the baby is due.

He was feeling good about his decision to give his team and managers plenty of notice. He works for a well-known tech company that’s led by a seemingly benevolent billionaire.

What was bothering him was a meeting he’d been part of shortly before we spoke.

It was the first meeting back for one of his male colleagues who took similar paternity leave. By way of welcoming him back, the manager leading the Zoom said to his direct report: “Glad to have you back. How was your vacation?”

Awkward silence.

To get family leave is meaningful in America. If it’s paid, it’s a benefit only a quarter of Americans receive.

If it’s longer than 12 weeks, it’s remarkable. The average paid maternity leave in the U.S. is 10 weeks, while the average paternity leave is a week.

As for the leave itself, it’s many things, but it’s not vacation. It’s exhilarating, it’s terrifying, it’s tiring, it’s fun. For first timers, it’s something that’s hard to comprehend before you wade into it.

And then this employee comes back to his dude manager, with that tired, bro remark: “How was your vacation?”

Pause here: Women returning from maternity leave face nonsense all the time. I recently heard Mita Mallick tell a story of the awful performance review she received years ago after maternity leave – as if her division’s struggles in the months she was not there were her fault!

Men have historically taken little if any paternity leave. One reason has been the belief that doing so would hurt their careers, because they would be seen as insufficiently committed to work, as Jamie Ladge has noted in her research. Bro remarks don’t help that.

If we want equality at work; if we want men to be Lead Dads, and not just Event Dads; if we want them to take some of the parenting burden off of Working Moms, we need to give them paternity leave, compel them to take it and then welcome them back without nonsense.

Did the dad in this meeting shrug off the remark? No idea. But what did the other men and women on that call think about taking family leave? The policy was there, and it was robust. But would they still take it and not worry about their jobs?

If that manager happens to read this, I’ve attached two photos to show the difference between family leave and family vacation: notice the trepidation in one vs the pure excitement in the other. Same Dad, same daughter, but the worry in that first photo fed the connection in the second one.