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Paid family leave is not a vacation. It's just a different type of work

The author and his son, Noah, in 2023. (Courtesy David Tanklefsky)
The author and his son, Noah, in 2023. (Courtesy David Tanklefsky)

Editor's Note: This is a letter from the editors included in WBUR's weekly opinions and ideas newsletter, Cognoscenti. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

David Tanklefsky’s essay this week on taking paternity leave includes this line: “But paid family leave is not a vacation and shouldn’t be thought of as one. It’s just a different type of work — one that society has historically undervalued and (another big surprise) placed on the weary shoulders of women.”

As a woman with (occasionally) weary shoulders, I welcome this kind of thinking. I’m also somewhat reluctant to celebrate fathers for taking paternity leave: it’s irritating to me that the reality of American society still categorizes those leave-taking dads as outliers.

But it turns out, David isn’t just any leave-taking father: He’s cousins with feminist icon Bella Abzug, a woman he describes as “cantankerous, brash, stubborn [and] funny-hat-wearing.” She died 25 years ago this week.

Abzug’s life’s work — advocating for women’s rights, economic justice and gender equity, including the Equal Rights Amendment — is still a work in progress. Forty-one of the world’s wealthiest countries offer paid leave; notably, the U.S. does not. (Massachusetts is better: in 2021, the legislature passed a law allowing for up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid family leave.)

“I’ve tried to do my small part by talking to others, particularly new dads, about paid leave,” he writes, “… these are conversations that can help lead to a shift in understanding: taking the family leave you’re entitled to is an act of feminism and gender equity.”

Given all the tangible ways infants and mothers benefit when parents receive paid leave, I hope more fathers take advantage of these policies, as David has.

One last note: We’re still collecting responses for a piece we’re working on to mark 10 years since the Boston Marathon bombing. Whether you’re a runner, a first responder or marathon-lover, we’d love to hear from you.

P.S.— WBUR gets the biggest share of our funding from people like you! When you support our work, you help us report the truth — without fear or favor. Please make a gift today during our spring fundraiser.

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Cloe Axelson Senior Editor, Cognoscenti
Cloe Axelson is an editor of WBUR’s opinion page, Cognoscenti.



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