I went back and forth, whether I could, should, or would take parent leave. Ultimately, I did. Here’s what the process showed me about education, family, and balance. And why you should always take YOUR full fucking leave.
So it’s Sunday night, literally when I would be stressed about starting the work week, night sweats depending on the month of the year. Normally, I would be anxious, even a little depressed. But instead, tonight, I am chillin. Well, I am writing this piece. But what I aint doing, is trippin. I aint writing no staff bulletin. I aint planning no meetings for the week, or drafting no agendas. I ain’t stressin over no tough conversations with folks who need them. Nor am I double checking the mountain of compliance documents that need to be turned in. I aint trying to do all this while, I am washing dishes, prepping preschool lunch, swiffer jetting, and mixing formula bottles.
Normally, I would be doing this, coz it’s Sunday night, or really, any night.
But, I am on leave, goddammit. And I am chilling, or more so I’m cathartically writing about chilling. Perhaps, I will chill tomorrow. And as I reflect on said leave, while I listen to music, sip tea, and smell vanilla scented candles, I am reminded of the lack of all this calm feeling.
Hold up. 9 month is up, gotta make a bottle. (that’s why I’m on leave, not for the tea sippin)
Well, I’m reflecting: on the convoluted process of getting leave, my agonizing deliberation, my privilege, racial politics, and my children’s future.
What I Learned From My Mistakes (Shoulda Took leave)
First off, when I was a new teacher, I never took a day off. Used to work every day. I think I got that from my mom, who I don’t even remember being sick, let alone taking a day off. She was on some Eastern European (she’s Austrian and Polish) type ice cold shit. I took some days off when I was teaching and in Principal grad school. But when I started being a school leader and especially during my first few years as a Principal, I never took a day off. I mean Andre 3000 forever never. In light of the current pandemic, I realize we need to take way more days off. But back then, I used to come to work, sick as a fucking dog. Not because I was trying to bank my days (though I now know how valuable they are), but because I was just on getting my martyr on. Thinking I needed to be everything to everyone. Except myself. I thought I needed to prove something to folks. That I was strong, I was present, I was a leader. But, that’s bullshit and not sustainable.
I remember I got married during my first year, and was negotiating with my wife to take a WHOLE .TWO. DAYS OFF. That wasn’t shit. I have to thank my wife for staying with me. I just felt like I needed to be at work. Why? White supremacy culture, capitalism, and puritanism. Amerikkka. But I digress.
It got worse. When I had my first daughter, it was during the summer of 2017. I had about 2 weeks off (summer break), before I needed to report back for Admin trainings. The students weren’t even there, but I felt like I needed to work. Still. I didn’t take any time off. None. Shit. Sorry again babe. Trust me, my wife didn’t and still won’t let me forget. But I left her home with a colicky baby, and I worked. Opening school, moving desks, hiring, all that “important stuff.” Yeah fucking right. They had me duped for sure. I should have taken as many days as I had then too. My wife needed me and my daughter needed me. And I should have realized I needed my daughter.
The only bright side is that I was banking my days, for when I really needed them. How bout this for a revolutionary but humane idea? No leave limits for parents. To only have so many days each year, forces you to choose between health, sanity, family, marriage, parenthood, and work. Trust me there aint enough days for all that division.
The Convoluted Process of Taking Leave
I will tell you this. The process is shit. Digging through state and federal law, contracts, and rumors. Deciphering acronyms like the Da Vinci Code. Of course, it’s just paperwork, and once I decided what I wanted to do, it was simpler, but it’s understanding the process that is a pain in the ass. And I have the privilege of being a Principal in the school district to help me lean on folks, to get answers. I have seen Teachers, my wife included, and Teachers I have worked with, get the run around like visitin the DMV during a power outage. Without your ID!
We all start with a few simple questions:
- How can I take leave?
- How many days do I have?
- How much will I get paid?
- When can I start?
- What’s the best decision?
But damn do you get the runaround. I understand, we are understaffed and under-resourced. But the consequence is not getting access to our federally and state guaranteed leave. When I didn’t get clear answers, I thought folks were judging me or lying to me. I thought it wouldn’t get approved. And I felt some shame. You send an email, don’t get a response, send another, get a pasted message from federal law. I can’t understand that. That’s your job, right? I just want to know, can I take leave? (blinks slowly) You submit paperwork and wait to hear back. Between FFCRA, FMLA, CFRA, the acronyms are exhausting. The issue is that if you do this wrong, you might not get approved, might not get paid, or have to fill out more paperwork. Shit is tough. Here’s a few resources on the process and laws, at least in California.
What California Law Says
- “Paternity leave is the time a new father takes off from his job for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of his new child. – Source: https://wrklyrs.com/Paternity#p1
- “Many men in California have a legal right to take an extended period of absence from work for both childbirth and bonding time.” Gov. Code, § 12926(d); 29 U.S.C., § 2601, et. seq.
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides a federal right for eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to tend to certain family obligations, including caring for the serious health condition of a spouse and the birth or adoption of a child. – Source: https://wrklyrs.com/Paternity#p7
- The California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which is the state counterpart to the FMLA and provides most of the same rights, including a right for eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid paternity leave. – Source: https://wrklyrs.com/Paternity#p7
Eligible employees in California have a right to take up to 12 weeks of family leave per year.
Check out what your state says and think as far ahead as possible. Talk to some vets too. Let’s not skip over the fact that for women to get more time off they need to be categorized or diagnosed as having a disability. That’s fucked up, right? A kid ain’t a disability. It’s a kid. A life change yes, but c’mon dog. Let’s get our terminology and subsequent policies in order.
Folks Response and Double Standards/ Institutional Patriarchy
The response was quiet varied, and sexist. Sometimes it was cool. But other times it went like this:
“I’m thinking about taking leave.”
“Oh cool, how long?”
“The full 12 weeks.”
“Damn. Really? What will people think?”
“Shit I dunno. I guess I am not tripping or trying not to focus on them. I am having a baby.”
“That’s right. Do you. Family first right? But, I’d couldn’t do that though.”
Shit, and I am the leader of my school, put in 6 years there, and 16 years in public education. What about everyone else? What about the women? There’s a double standard for sure. I have seen that folks celebrate me for “being a good dad,” “stepping up,” “supporting my wife,” but women get very different response. Shit, I’m sugarcoating. They get shady ass, judgmental, gaslighting, patriarchal responses.
They get shame.
I hear of women being told, “wow, really, you’re pregnant?” “you are taking leave?” “what are you going to do about your sub?” “you feel good about your job?” Yo. That’s fucked up on all levels. But it’s so common and so slick how patriarchy and institutional policy get’s weaponized. I see women feel worried about their job security, their upward mobility, and their financial security. Who benefits? Men. (side eye)
One of the reasons I make such a big deal about parenting and leave, is to normalize it, use my male privilege to de-stigmatize taking leave. Being at home right now, my 9 month old is never too far from me. But, I make sure I bring her to my zoom meetings, because that’s what it is. We at home. We got babies. We supposed to be working too. It’s hard as hell. And I know that women are judged and feel uncomfortable being moms. So my kid be in all the zoom videos, like she’s Puff Daddy, in the late 90s. The bittersweet part is that I get celebrated for it, and we need to extend that to our women as well.
On another note of privilege. I have it. The fact that I have enough days accrued to take off and get paid is privilege. That fact that I have male privilege and can say, “Shit, I am taking leave,” is privilege. The fact that I work in a country and state that offers paid (if you got sick days) parent leave is a privilege. Everybody don’t have that. They should. Folks aint always had that throughout history. They should have. Shit, my ancestors who worked in the fields of Alabama, as enslaved exploited workers didn’t get no sick leave or baby bonding time. I have privilege. I won’t forget it.
Still, we can still evolve, become more humanizing, and love each other. We should. We need to.
If you need a model or inspiration, look no further than Finland, who like usual, is shittin on us.
“Finland guarantees the greatest amount of time off (170 weeks) for parents. But only 26 of those weeks are paid out at 70% of the parent’s salary. For the remaining weeks parents are paid at a flat rate. And Finland has the lowest use of parental leave benefits by fathers among the listed countries, highlighting the persistent gender imbalance.” Here are the top 5 countries for parent leave. (looks at process of becoming an expat)
Rest & Balance – How I am Using My Daddy Leave
Ok. I have it, but how do I use it? Not just to maximize it, but to enjoy it.
I know number 1 should be my kid. I know, shit. But that will happen. But rest. Yo. Rest. This quote from the nap ministry, sums it up. “Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.” The pressure to always be busy, be perfect, be urgent, and be producing is about exploiting workers and it serves the rich masters. Rest is resistance. I’m wit it. Let’s be real. Brown folks been exploited for too damn long. From slavery, to migrant work, to underpaid jobs. I’m done with the martyr shit.
- Quality Time
When I ain’t working I have more time for quality time with my wife and kids. That’s what I am here for, so I can do more of it. Walks, trips to the park, and splashing in muddy puddles. I missed so much of my oldest’s early years, and I don’t want to repeat. Late night netflix shows like Portlandia, British Cupcake Wars, and Scientology documentaries. Don’t judge. My wife also gets me to watch other things too.
- Chores and Supporting my Wife
I am a neat freak, I guess another product of white supremacy culture and my mother being a maid for 15 years and all. But I do enjoy cleaning and being in a clean home. With this whole pandemic, we always at home thing, the apartment gets messy. So I try to clean a lot more. My wife is full time distance teaching, and also starting grad school, so time is short. Kevin Hart short. Least I can do is the dishes, floors, laundry, and toy organization.
So many books I want to read. So many. I am excited about Gholdy’s book, Resmaa’s, finshing Kendi’s, Emdin’s new joint, re-reading the great autobiography of Malcolm X. So many. When I’m short on ideas, I go to this trusty list of hot fire.
- Exercise and Health
I was doing good around October, but Thankstaking, took a lot from me and I lost momentum. Winter holidays didn’t help. I was in another glutinous spiral, but I am breaking out. Walking 10k steps a day, 5o push ups, 10 pull ups, and a little weights is the goal. Trying to not drink coffee every day and late night snacks. But it’s more possible when I am not commuting and now not even working my day job.
- Building Truss Leadership
Then there’s the night job. And the weekend job. During this leave, I am hoping to get clear on what my future will be with all this. Started as some blog posts, a few workshops, and shit got real. Really big and beautiful. Can’t be mad. I am doing my dream job. I hope to use this time to build curriculum for the future, launch my Spring Workshops (microaggressions, teach like a human 3, DWSC, Antiracist PBL, and Racial Affinity Groups). Also, I hope to build out 4 year-long courses for 21-22, and secure one big contract for next year. We shall see. I love the creativity and energy when I get some breathing room. Time to paint.
- Planning to Move
We are hoping to head up to the pacific northwest, in the next 1-2 years, where we can purchase a home and not be living check to check. I’d love to stay in my hometown of San Francisco, but have you seen the home prices? Fuck that shit. The bridge and cable cars are nice, but I am not going to die house poor because of it. They call it sight seeing for a reason. I can see that shit and go back to a home where my kids have space to play and I am not broke. Well, we are planning to find employment up north in the next few years, and settle down. Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Canada. We are open. Possibly even some other parts of the country, as long as the price of living isn’t too high.
- 3rd Baby
Oh yeah. And we having another one. We are having a 3rd baby. Baby boy due in June. I know, another one? Yeah, (DJ Khaled says *another one*) We already had a pandemic baby, but when life gives you pandemics, have babies. At least we are. Blessed to be able to. So I will be preparing in many ways for the arrival of our 3rd child. Getting the home together, getting my health in order. Hopefully it takes the kids a while to figure out that they outnumber us. The oldest is catching on.
How Leaders Should Respond When Folks Take Leave
I wanted to share some ideas of how leaders can be more supportive of parents. First things first. I failed at this and hurt folks in the past. I wish I knew. But now I do. So here are a few tips. When someone says they or their family is expecting a child, always be happy. Always. Ask how they feel and how their family feels. Ask what you can do. Don’t jump right to technical machine oriented shit (dates, subs, lesson plans) or share your stress. It ain’t about you homie. Ask how you can help and then follow through. Let them bring up their leave, when they are ready. And be supportive. Sure, it will cause extra work, but just see it as a part of job. Someone is always out, colds, deaths, births, health, etc. Don’t shame them. Tell them, that you are supportive of whatever they want to do. Tell them they are entitled to their full leave and more.
Life is short.
If you are a gatekeeper or a manager,
stop hating and congratulate.
If you are considering taking leave,
take that shit!