When I first found out that I was going to be a dad, my initial shock and excitement quickly led to some big questions. What type of father will I be? How do you change a diaper? Will she like me? And of course – because the U.S. sadly still has no national paid leave policy – will my company give me any paid time off to bond with my daughter?
That’s right – my daughter was going to be the first Big Valley baby. Sure, many of my colleagues were parents, but their children were older. Being a first-time dad, I wasn’t sure if I’d get more than a few weeks. And I was okay with that, since most of my friends only took one or two weeks, and many companies offer no paternity leave at all. I remember telling our Head of Talent & Culture, “I’m not expecting a lot of time – and I’m more than happy to use my PTO.”
But soon after that conversation, our CEO announced our gender-neutral parental leave policy: 16 weeks to support both expecting moms and dads, during a time of vast change. I could hardly believe my ears.
This policy highlights not just the culture at Big Valley, but also the character of our leadership. I’ve worked for many companies, some of which have been listed as a “Best Place to Work.” But while most companies talk the talk, they come up short when it comes to policies that truly put their employees first.
With this announcement, Big Valley proved yet again that it walks the walk. I am so proud to be a part of this team.
After my initial shock wore off, I started to wonder – what will I do for 16 weeks? I’ve worked my entire adult life, and I love what I do. But little did I know how much I would need and appreciate every single day of those 16 weeks.
With this news in hand, my wife and I planned to have her take her leave in full first, and then I would take mine when she went back to work. This would allow us to push out when our daughter would need to enter daycare – a blessing I didn’t fully appreciate until she arrived.
When our daughter was born, I took a few days of PTO and then went back to work. Those early days were tough, balancing work and new fatherhood on precious little sleep. I began to grow more and more excited about my time away from work.
As my leave approached and I started to wind down work, many people told me, “Enjoy your time off.” But once my leave began, I quickly learned what every parent already knows: It is not a vacation. Trying to establish a routine – with activities, feedings, and ever-changing naps — was no easy feat.
However, the bonding time I had with my daughter is something I’ll cherish and remember for the rest of my life. From seeing her smile at singalongs and story times, to feeling her softly breathing as she slept on my chest, to my sense of triumph every time I got her to nap — these are all memories that every parent should get to experience.
Of course, there were times I told myself, “Yeah, I could definitely go back to work now.” New parenthood can be exhausting, monotonous, and just plain tough. But that’s exactly why, without a doubt, this experience made me a better father, a better partner, and a better employee.
Now, one month back at work, I feel more confident at my job and at home. And while I always planned to stay with Big Valley for many years to come, my tremendous appreciation for my employer has strengthened my loyalty more than ever before.
Being a full-time parent is not for the faint of heart. It is 100% a full-time job – and one that is sadly overlooked by our society, primarily because most working parents don’t get to spend the quality time they deserve with their babies. I am so thankful I had this time with my daughter, and I look forward to being by her side as she experiences all the ups and downs growing up has to offer. And I hope for real change in the future – so, when she decides to have children of her own, parental leave is a right, and not a rarity.