by John Hoffman w/ Ryan MacIsaac
Ryan MacIsaac is a member of a rather exclusive group of Canadian men: fathers who take extended parental leave. Outside of Quebec, which sets aside several weeks of parental leave that are only available to fathers, only about one in eight Canadian dads take any parental leave at all. And usually, those leaves can be counted in days or weeks, not months. Ryan, who recently returned to his job at a federal government office in Miramichi, New Brunswick, tool a combined total of more than 14 months of parental leave after the births of his two sons, Carter and Ethan! He took just over five months with Carter and almost nine months with Ethan. Here, in his own words, Ryan explains why he took parental leave, what it was like, and what it has meant to him and his family.
“After Carter was born, one reason I took parental leave was that my partner Tiffani had to keep going to school. The nursing program she was in was closing in a few years and she didn’t have the option to take a year off. I had intended to wait a little while before taking the leave, however, Tiffani was struggling with postpartum depression and told me that I had to take my leave immediately. So the two of us spent the summer of 2014 together with the baby.
I was nervous about taking parental leave. I had never not worked before, and I had never held a baby. After Tiffani went back to work I quickly learned that it is not easy being home with a baby all the time. It’s isolating and frustrating. And it was hard at times because Carter was sick a lot. I remember being awake all night, with him screaming constantly. On the worst night, Tiffani found me crying on the couch holding Carter, literally begging him to sleep. She picked him up and sent me to bed. But things got better gradually and I enjoyed my time at home with him. I was actually very sad to go back to work when my leave was over.
With our second baby, Ethan, I knew I would happily take parental leave again as Tiffani still had another year of school left. I was a bit nervous to tell my employer about it. They were wonderful though and couldn’t have been more supportive. They even threw me a little party and bought a cake and gifts!
Ethan was an easier baby. He’s super happy, but he doesn’t sleep a lot, so that was my only struggle, when I was home with him. I find that lack of sleep is the hardest part about parenting. It’s not that hard to have a good routine and make sure your kids are fed and loved, but doing it on three hours of sleep is not always easy.
I feel really good about the leave I took. I couldn’t imagine a world where I didn’t get to spend these formative months with my boys. Tiffani was able to finish her nursing degree and graduated a few weeks ago. The boys and I went to Fredericton to cheer her on and it was amazing! When we first got together, Tiffani said she always dreamed about being a nurse. I’m so happy and proud that she accomplished her dreams and that I was able to support her though it. So staying home and putting my career on hold for a while was a small price to pay to be able to offer our children a more reliable future. I feel lucky to live in a country that allows that opportunity.
You know, for the first 30 years of my life I had never wanted kids. I never saw the need. And when Tiffani and I were first together, I would have been completely happy with
our family being just the two of us. But now
that I have two kids, I know that I would have not only missed out on their love, but also a big part of who I am. I help raise my kids, I take them to the park, make sure they are happy, fed, clean, played with. I’m a significantly different person because I have two tiny heartbeats to love and take care of.”
ed note – Ryan’s story is an encouraging one and there are many fathers who have similar experiences. We also know that many fathers are in situations where taking leave for their family is a struggle at best and not an option at worst. We would love to hear from men who have wanted, but not been able, to take parental or family leave. Share your stories in the comments or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).