Alexis Ohanian Thinks People Need to Take Paternity Leave More Seriously

There's been plenty of talk about maternity leave in the past few years, but Alexis Ohanian got real about something else that should be part of that conversation: paternity leave. In a new op-ed for the New York Times, Ohanian explains that he is grateful that he took 16 weeks of paternity leave after the birth of his daughter, Olympia, and hopes that by talking about how important it is, other men will feel compelled to take leave, too.

Ohanian said that he never gave much thought to the idea of paternity leave. Like many people, he said that his father didn't take leave, so he didn't have firsthand experience with it. He also noted that for many men, being seen as a "breadwinner" is part of being a dad, so taking time off is counterintuitive. How can someone provide for their family if they're not working? That's the sort of thing he wants to dispell and he went on to explain that taking paternity leave wasn't an option for him. He had to take time off to care for his wife, Serena Williams, and that time let him see just how important paternity leave is.

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"Before Olympia was born, I had never thought much about paternity leave and, to be honest, Reddit’s company policy was not my idea. Our vice president of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, brought it up to me in a meeting and it sounded O.K., so why not?" Ohanian wrote. "Then came Olympia, after near-fatal complications forced my wife, Serena, to undergo an emergency C-section. Serena 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."

Ohanian went on to say that he could see why men would be hesitant to take leave. They don't want to be passed up for promotions, they want to make sure they're at work so they don't lose their jobs, and they don't think that their employers would support paid paternity leave. However, citing data from PL+US, a paid-leave advocacy group, he says that 84 percent of dads plan to take time off, even though only half of them feel like their workplaces would support the decision.

"All people deserve fulfilling work and close family ties. 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 wrote. "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."

In addition to caring for his wife, he says that being there for his daughter in those early days primed him for the years to come. Now that he's spent that time with his daughter, he wants every new dad to have the same chances — for them and their children.

"As an only child with no cousins, I didn't grow up around babies; in fact, I had never held one until my daughter was born," he wrote. "At first, holding her terrified me. 'I am a giant and she's so tiny … What if I break her?' I didn't — which was encouraging — and then I learned how to calm her crying, rock her to sleep, and handle her toddler years with grace."

As a final note, Ohanian says that he believes there should be federal mandates for leave for "birth parents, adoptive parents, and caregivers alike." Until that happens, he encourages any parent to tell their boss that Alexis Ohanian is here to support taking full advantage of paid leave.

"Talk to your bosses and tell them I sent you."

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