All I Want for Father’s Day is Paid Leave and Support for Caregiving

By Indivar Dutta-Gupta

Every Father’s Day reminds me of the importance of caregiving—and of the need for this country to support men, as well as other parents, in their role as caregivers, in providing the care our families and loved ones need. Though my mother, who worked while completing a Ph.D. program, provided much of the care my sister and I needed growing up, my father was also there when we needed him. He begged and pleaded to secure a spot for me at a church preschool. I recall playing with Legos on his bed while he—the only adult at home—slept because of the unusual hours he worked while holding down two jobs. Now, as the father of a 6-year-old and 10-year-old, I’ve experienced the double standards and gendered expectations of caring for children (and adults). I see how daunting we make it for families, especially those with limited resources, to meet their complex caregiving needs.

There’s a clear culprit here: our country’s policies pale in comparison to the care policies that evidence and experience tell us we need. Millions of families lack affordable, quality child care–something we will only attain with sustained public investments in providers and workers. We are among a handful of countries with no national paid leave, despite progress in 12 states and my home city of Washington, D.C. As a country, we don’t even guarantee workers a single earned paid sick day, leaving 34 million workers without one. Yet work is how nearly all of us are able to afford a basic living standard, and parents and caregivers need child care to be able to do it. When we’ve left these vital family needs to employers alone, we get results that exacerbate our country’s pervasive inequities: Black and other working people of color, families in the South (where I grew up), and the lowest-paid workers are chronically left unsupported.

Ultimately, we need national policies to support parents, caregivers, children, and all families. Our society depends on caregiving and raising children. The idea that families should be on their own because having children is a choice has failed us as a nation. Among other things, having a child increasingly isn’t a choice–thanks to the devastating Dobbs decision–and many grandparents and other relatives are unexpectedly raising another generation of children. Care investments benefit children, who have no responsibility for their circumstances of birth.

We as a nation need to support all parents and caregivers—whatever their sex or gender—to advance fairness and prosperity. Allowing people to provide or procure needed care reduces stress and improves mental health. Caregiving investments improve educational and economic outcomes. We simply can’t escape the reality that we all benefit from care supports like paid leave.

In recent weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of discussing issues like paid leave, the enhanced Child Tax Credit, and child care and early education with the Congressional Dads Caucus, led by the indefatigable Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) and his staff. These conversations have made clear that one element of advancing gender equity and improving the status of women and people with non-binary identities is making sure that dads have support to offer the kind of care they want and need to provide their loved ones. The discussions remind me that every father and family deserve the freedom I’m fortunate to have because I’m a resident of D.C., which runs its own paid family and medical leave program and is constantly improving child care and early education access (like the public pre-K my children were able to attend), because of the generous benefits of my employer, and because of my income and assets.

This Father’s Day, I’m recommitting myself to helping build a country that gives all families meaningful choices through policies like the Child Tax Credit, paid leave, and child care assistance, not impossible choices—like deciding between a paycheck and bonding with or caring for a child.