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Is paid paternity leave the first step to fathers' rights?

In the afterglow of Father's Day, let's take a look at some recent local developments on the paternal parent front. First, Chicago's own 17-year-old rap star Chief Keef faces a second paternity suit and additional charges of avoiding child support payments. Second, local police hit the streets dressed like commandos in search of noncustodial dads who are behind on their support payments. They arrested 25 people in "raids" last week, one a dad who owes almost $125,000 in back support payments.

And a state legislator in a recent op-ed piece calls for reinvigorating, if not reinstating, the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood. Rep. LaShawn K. Ford of Chicago criticizes the governor's recent order to dismantle the council, noting that its mission to promote positive involvement of fathers in their children's lives has positive social and fiscal implications. Many children, Ford says, end up relying on state programs for food, housing and medical care when their fathers fail to keep up with support payments.

The specter of the Deadbeat Dad looms large in the U.S., and, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, employers seldom offer a simple benefit that could set father-child relationships on the right path: paid paternity.

Just 15 percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave, SHRM says. In contrast, about 85 percent of new fathers take time off after the birth of a child, though that time is limited to a week or two, according to another study. The question, then, is whether fathers would take the leave if they had it, and if they wouldn't, why not?

It seems paternity leave is a little like prune juice: We know it's good for us but we hate to take it. Men not only face coworkers' disdain for taking off time, but they fear their careers will stall if they're gone too long. Another recent study shows that employers and coworkers perceive fathers who are active in their children's lives as distracted and less dedicated.

Fathers' rights groups often complain that the courts favor mothers and stick to traditional gender roles when making child custody and support decisions. The courts are bound by law to consider the best interests of the child, though. Can corporate America say the same?

Sources: 

Wall Street Journal, "Why Dads Don't Take Paternity Leave," Lauren Weber, June 12, 2013

Chicago Tribune, "More support for responsible fatherhood," Illinois Rep. LaShawn K. Ford, June 17, 2013

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