Homegrown with Hope: Paternity leave benefits whole family

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BISMARCK, N.D. - There's a growing effort in states across the country this year to secure paid family leave when a child is born. It's happening because only a small fraction of the country's workers are guaranteed that benefit, and yet statistics show families have so much to gain from paid leave.

When it comes to fathers, it can mean stronger relationships for the whole family.

To find out how these paternity leaves are strengthening families, we took this Homegrown with Hope to visit the guy who directs North Dakota Today during his time at home with his newborn son.

Kyle Dagman's new normal is a lot less directing of cameras and on-air talent, and a lot more taking orders from his two-month old son, Axel.

"Emptying bottles and filling diapers, pretty much. That's what we do around here," he said.

Kyle has a week of paid time off saved up for this sole purpose, and says he wouldn't spend it any other way.

"I wish I could have taken the eight weeks that my wife got to have, instead of just the one week," Kyle said, wishing he had more time to bond with his son. "But one week is just great."

The Federal Labor Department reports seven in 10 American fathers took 10 days or less of parental leave after bringing home a newborn. Yet, longer paternity leaves have been linked to stronger relationships between fathers and their children.

In turn, Labor Department statistics show that can lead to fewer behavioral problems, stronger mental health and even higher test scores for their children.

So, while the days may become routine, all those silly songs do count for something. All those middle-of-the-night feedings don't go unrewarded, even when Kyle tries to outsmart them.

"Now that I'm staying home," he explains with a laugh, "if he gets up at 3 a.m., that's my shift. So at like 10, we've been hitting the bottle real hard, trying to get passed out for the rest of the night."

Despite the growing benefits, many fathers choose not to take a longer leave, even when it's offered to them for fear of lost wages or workplace cultures. A Deloitte survey showed 57-percent of men responded by saying taking a longer parental leave would look like a lack of commitment to their careers.

Perhaps it's that social stigma behind some of the surprised faces Kyle and Axel see while running errands together around town.

"It is interesting, though, the way that we're treated out in public, " he said. "Men don't really notice or care. But, women and moms, when they see us together they lose their minds. And, they shouldn't. It shouldn't be that special for me to hang out with him. It should just be normal."

The more time Kyle and Axel have together, the more they are proving that their new normal really isn't so unusual after all.