I live in Daddyland.
Yes, this is a state of mind. But it is also a real place, otherwise known as Sweden.
I am on nine months of paid parental leave with my son here in Stockholm. I was off for six months with his older sister a few years ago, and those are just the big chunks of leave. I have taken parental leave to create longer summer and winter breaks. I have worked only 75% for more than a year now, as is my right under Swedish law. I have been paid for staying home with my sick toddler.
Yes, Sweden takes very good care of the parents of young children.
But this has been true for a long time, at least for moms. Only in the past few years have fathers in Sweden taken any serious chunk of parental leave (and it is still only about 25%). Part of this is because there are now 60 days set aside solely for fathers. Part of this is because the government now has an “equality bonus” that pays couples who split their leave more equally.
But I think it goes deeper than this. I think this is a sign of gender roles slowly shifting in one of the last bastions of tradition – raising young children.
You see it in America too – stories about women making more than men, the rise of stay-at-home dads, the nascent efforts by some states and groups to fight for parental leave in the US. There are hard facts on this shift – some books, blogs, websites, research, which I will try and get up on a blogroll or link to, though I am more interested in the visceral experience of living in a place where men raise babies with no social stigma, with no professional sacrifice, just doing right by their family.
Here you get packs of dudes pushing strollers down the street. You go to “open preschool” and it can be all guys sitting around the circle at song time or wiping baby food off their kids snotty face. And it all seems so natural.
But it is not the norm for me. I know well the other side of this story. For I am American. And I have had a baby in Port Jervis, New York.
Almost two years ago, my wife, then one-year-old daughter and I fled that gritty small city in the New York City exurbs, crushed under the weight of social isolation, career cul de sacs and a drafty old house filled with lead paint, dead rats and lots and lots of bats. It was literally the end of the train line, and no one takes the train. It was gentrification gone horribly wrong. We went to Wal-Mart for fun and to save our sanity, and we aren’t the types to like Wal-Mart.
We fled to Sweden, where my wife is from, hoping to find a safe spot to land. And now we live tucked into a 450-square-foot apartment with a toddler and a baby, no car and no plans to move.
And now, until September, I have ventured into Daddyland.
Come join me.