Published On: Wed, Jun 22nd, 2022

Is There Any Hope for Paternity Leave?



This originally ran in How We Dad Now. You can read the other stories in the package here, as well as in our Summer 2022 issue.

When it comes to paternity leave, ‘Murica lags behind much of the rest of the world. The federal government guarantees exactly zero days of paid time off (though it allows us up to twelve weeks’ unpaid leave, so…thanks?); a handful of companies and just ten states have risen to the occasion. The result is that only 5 percent of fathers in the U. S. take two or more weeks off after the birth of their child. Alexis Ohanian—a cofounder of Reddit, husband of Serena Williams, and, along with groups like the nonprofit PL+US, a tireless advocate for a federal family-leave policy—makes the case for why even the busiest dads should have the right to spend time with their newborns.


When did you first realize our approach to paternity leave needs to change?

The switch flipped in 2017, when Serena had a difficult childbirth with life-threatening complications. There was no way I would want anyone to go through something like that and think, Do I stay here with my wife and newborn or do I go back to work?

Do you think taking that time impacted your relationship with your daughter today?

It undoubtedly created strong bonds with not just my daughter but with my wife. Me being able to rise to that occasion—changing diapers, feeding, cleaning, because paid leave was an option for me at Reddit, where I was the executive chairman at the time—meant a better health outcome for Serena and our daughter. At Reddit, we’d recently hired the first real HR person in our then decade of existence, and one of the table stakes for her, to get and retain the very best talent, had been a great family-leave plan. If we could encourage men to take advantage of it as often as women did, then we’d destigmatize an issue women face in the workforce. It would remove that element of the bias. And I’d thought at the time, Okay, this is important. When my daughter was born, I took full use of it.

Last fall, you publicly criticized Palantir cofounder Joe Lonsdale for calling men who take family leave “losers.”

As a society, we’ve crippled the confidence of men like Joe. Part of the reason I’ve been advocating as loudly as I have is because I want other men to have the confidence to take that time. For folks who want to have outsized impacts on the world, it is about understanding the whys. Why do the things you do? Why go to work? For many people, myself included, it is the legacy you’re leaving behind for the little human you’ve produced. I’ve gotten to know some really successful men over the years, and eventually this topic comes up. And not a single one of them has ever said, “Gosh, I wish I spent less time with my kids.”

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