Heard on the Hill

‘Dadvocates’ join fight for paid family leave

Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian among dads calling for paid time off

Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, holds his daughter Emmy while Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida, talks with Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian. (Clyde McGrady/CQ Roll Call)

They call themselves “Dadvocates,” men who say paid family leave is not just crucial for moms, but for dads who want to bond with their newborn and create more equity when it comes to child care expectations within the home.

Alexis Ohanian, venture capitalist, founder of Reddit and proud “business dad,” said it will be strange when he one day explains to his daughter that paid family leave was not always the law.

The tech entrepreneur came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday with a group of dads who spent the entire day meeting with House and Senate lawmakers, including Reps. Cedric Richmond, James E. Clyburn, and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Marco Rubio.

The group capped the day with a reception put on by Dove Men + Care and the Future Forum caucus, a congressional group that looks to connect to millennial and younger voters. In a Longworth room crawling with babies and staffers, dads talked about their experience trying to navigate paternal care with paid time off.

Ohanian, who is married to 23-time women’s tennis grand slam champion Serena Williams, said he initially took his paternity leave just to set an example for his employees. “I really wanted to take the time just so that they would feel comfortable taking it, too,” he said.

But that was before Williams would suffer complications from childbirth, including the rupture of stitches binding her cesarean incision.

“We were put in a situation that no parent should feel, where you have such a joyous day marked with with such trauma and such pain and such angst,” he said. “I resolved then, that no other employee of mine and certainly no other American should have to go through that and not know that there is a job waiting for them.”

The push for paid time off is not just gaining attention as a “women’s issue,” but as a necessary initiative to help strengthen families by making them more economically secure, proponents say.

“Today, one in four women are back at work within two weeks of giving birth,” said Whitney Pesek, who is a lobbyist for Dove’s paid leave initiative. “And 84 percent of dads say they would like to be there for the arrival of a new child, but over half of them feel like they can’t be, either because they can’t afford to miss the time or because they feel like they would put their careers in jeopardy.”

But it’s also about gender equity.

“The reality is traditional household roles are changing,” said Florida Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who leads the Future Forum. “And if we really want to see equality and parity between men and women, especially as it relates to families, it’s important that men also have the opportunity to take family leave to care for their children.”

A few congressmen admitted feeling a twinge of guilt for hitting the campaign trail or making frequent trips to D.C. while not getting as much bonding time with their newborns and leaving a spouse to shoulder most of the burden.

The day after Democrat Joe Cunningham announced his bid for South Carolina’s 1st District seat in June 2017, he and his wife found out she was pregnant. She would face complications from the birth in February, but Cunningham said he went back to work since his law firm had already given him some time to campaign. He said he regretted not raising the issue in order to “end the stigma around asking for it.”

Murphy believes that several paid leave proposals could pass the house but may face trouble from a Republican-controlled Senate skeptical about government’s role in the issue.

However, paid family leave does have one big Republican ally in its corner. Presidential adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump has been vocal about her desire for paid leave and met with Ohanian on Tuesday to discuss it.

“I applaud Mr. Ohanian’s advocacy for Paid Family Leave, for both mothers and fathers, an issue that has been of utmost importance to me and this administration,” Trump said in a statement after meeting with Ohanian. “Working families across the Country need Paid Family Leave and we’ve developed strong bipartisan support and momentum in Congress on this issue over the past three years. I enjoyed meeting with Alexis to discuss how we can work together to achieve our shared goals.”

While President Donald Trump called for paid leave in a 2017 joint address to Congress, the challenge will be convincing him to make a sustained effort in to pass the initiative. So far, it’s not something he has indicated he’s willing to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans to do.

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