The fight for paternity leave and family leave is growing steadily. On Monday, October 21, Salvador Guillermo and Robert Skaggs, two fathers from California who have firsthand experience with the struggles of not having paid family leave , traveled 3,000 miles from California to Washington, D.C. to present members of congress and lawmakers with 36,000 signatures by fathers — and their allies — who want the U.S. to have a federally paid leave program for parents.
The move, which coincided with National Dad’s Day of Action, was a long time in the making. Skaggs has four children — two of whom had chronic illnesses. He was not allowed to take leave from work to care for them, Guillermo, on the other hand, was denied leave from the company he worked at as a phlebotomist for seven years when his first son was born, and then spent time working in the gig economy. For both Skaggs and Guillermo, the battle is personal.
Here, Guillermo, who now works with Paid Leave For The United States (PL+US), explains why he was inspired to get into the fight for paid family leave, and where he wants the effort to go from here.
My fight is to show that every father is important and every situation where someone wants to take paid leave is important. It doesn’t matter whether you’re having a kid or you have a sick person at home who you need to take care of — it all falls under the same category. If the United States talks about how we are family-oriented, and we want to be strong as a country, then this is one thing that would make us strong. Strong families make strong citizens.
This week, we went to the capitol and started to voice to congressmen and representatives out there that we need to pass paid family leave federally. It went well on across party lines. Politicians are seeing the shame that fathers receive for wanting to be with their families, that it is almost like this thing you wear over your head. The next time you look for a job after taking care of your family and they want to understand that gap of why you were gone — you have to explain that to them — they saw that.
We went and explained that to the congressmen and representatives, they understand. I’m neither a Democrat or a Republican, but speaking with them, some of these Republicans are actually thinking of this. I don’t know if they’ve dealt with it personally or they heard stories, but they’re coming up with their own plans to put family leave into federal law in the United States.
My battle is personal. In 2015, when we had my son Joaquin, I went to work and thought it was going to be wonderful. I went over to my employers and told them that I was having a son, and I wanted to take my paid family leave. They denied me. They denied it to me. They propagated this stigma. “What do you need to do with your kids? Isn’t your wife home?”
I was stuck being shamed and had to tell them why it was so important for me to be home with my family. And it’s not just men who get shamed. Women do, too. “Why do you need to be at home?” These are common questions that companies ask of family members who are just trying to become a family.
I was forced to make this decision: Either I had to be at work, or I was going to be with my family that needed me. My family is the driving force for even doing the work that I do. So I made the decision not to go to work anymore. I left my job after being there for almost seven years. I was basically pushed into taking time off work — and I realized the importance of parental leave.
I spent a year-and-a-half out of the workforce. After that, I tried to go back to work and I found it difficult to find a job. People wanted to know why I left my job, why that was important to me, and why being with my family was more important than working. I had to explain to them that in my family — and in everybody’s family — fathers are important. We should be there for our families. The wives and husbands or husbands and husbands or however a family works — you can’t build a family with one parent being there and the other not being there.
I was back in the workforce before we had another son in 2018. And because of my resume gap, I actually had to become a temp agency worker. With that job, I didn’t receive any paid family leave. I didn’t even get any vacation time. You’re just there, at the beck and call of whatever company needs you. So for my second kid, I was unable to take leave at all. My wife had the baby and three days later I was back at work.
I had to be there. I had to do these things. I just had to bear with it. And it wasn’t fair. I was working in laboratories in hospitals. Doctors who were working at these hospitals could take leave. Nurses get to take time off. But I wasn’t important enough to take leave.
We have to fight for paid family leave and medical leave for fathers and to advocate for dads who found that personal leave was hard for them to take. We’ve stood up and made a voice that says, “Because we are dads, it is more important for us to be there. We should be able to take this time. We should not be shamed for wanting to take the time for our kids.”
I was pretty happy to see that, when we met with people, they were coming with ideas, and with open hearts. I would like to see paid family and medical leave in the books under federal law. I don’t know what it would look like, but it should provide security, so parents can know that they can be there when it’s important — whether its a new family or your family member is sick. All of those circumstances are important.
We’re going to continue to be there for our families. We’re going to keep fighting for paid family leave, whether it be by sharing our stories with other people, or by going somewhere and presenting our stories to Congress. We need to stay in the fight until we get something that looks reasonable for families in the United States.