The dadcraft Life: How Carlos rocked his paternity leave and maintains an even keel while raising his two sons, Gabe and Lucas.
You had a unique paternity leave experience with your first son: Describe for us what happened and how you pulled it off.
My organization separates vacation paid time off and sick paid time off. Vacation time expires and doesn’t roll over. Sick days don’t expire and roll over until maxed out. After seven years of working there full time and never having taken a sick day, I accumulated over 400 hours.
My wife and I found out in August that we were expecting our first child. After the initial excitement wore off, we were hit with the realization that we needed to make significant career choices. Then HR let me know that due to change of policy, sick time would be capped at 435 hours (60 days). In other words–use it or lose it.
At this point I must tell you that “Paternity Leave” is not a “thing” at my company. I love where I work. But we’re definitely not some cutting edge, “top 5 company in the universe to work for.” However, a few coworkers told me sick days could be used towards a “Paternity Leave,” a practice approved under FMLA. After some research I realized that FMLA allows me to take up to 12-weeks of leave for the care of a child.
I told my boss about my plan, and he was 100% supportive. At no point in the conversation did he make me feel like I was putting him in a tough spot. He didn’t imply that it was a bad career move or anything like that. On the contrary, he encouraged me in the decision. My wife gave birth to Gabe, took her maternity leave, and then I took 12 weeks of paternity leave when she went back to work.
What was the best part of having that extended time with Gabe?
We went on a lot of walks. We listened to a lot of podcasts. But really getting to know my son was what I valued most. I had a view of fatherhood (based on my cultural background) that said I could best provide for Gabe by putting a roof over his head and food on the table.
But I also found satisfaction in providing for him in really simple ways, like discovering his eating routines. I learned when to pick him up and when to let him cry it out. My picture of fatherhood was broadened as I learned how I could provide for him beyond just financially.
What was hardest about having that time with Gabe?
Looking back, I don’t know how I did it (my wife coming home for lunch everyday probably helped). It was incredibly hard. Probably the hardest thing was the sort of self-inflicted guilt of staying home with Gabe while my wife drove off to work. I was never able to really shake that feeling off.
You speak fluent Spanish. How are you bringing these language and cultural assets into your fathering?
I don’t want Gabe, nor our new baby son, Lucas, growing up with a “colorblind” mentality. We’re all unique. Our cultures are unique. When I married Callie, we came into our marriage from different cultures. I want Gabe and Lucas to experience the richness of that.
For example, Hispanic cultures are more collective. We place a huge value on doing things together. Her upbringing emphasizes individualism, where there’s an emphasis on determining what’s best for each individual in the group. I want to raise Gabe and Lucas to cherish our unique family heritage.
We named our sons Gabriel and Lucas in part because we want them to have names that are the same in Spanish and in English. On our request, my parents speak Spanish to them. I speak Spanish to them. When I’m around my English-speaking family and friends, I’ll often ask Gabe in Spanish to do something silly—like touch his nose or find his shoes—and he obliges. And then we ask him in English, and he does it again. It’s pure joy.
We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?
My wife would say it’s my ability to not be stressed in the intensity of the moment. Whether it’s bedtime or mealtime, I’m able to get above the stress.
A few weeks ago, we went to get Gabe’s second haircut (ever). We went into an old barbershop in downtown Glen Ellyn. We thought it was your average neighborhood barber shop, but it was actually the most hipster place you’ve ever seen. Foosball table, tons of dudes with beards, everything. I’m tensing up. This is not a family scene.
Gabe starts his haircut doing fine, but then he just loses it. He’s crying so violently he starts choking on the crackers we’re trying to jam down his throat. Everyone in the whole place is staring at us. There was a moment where we could bail and walk out, or stick it out. I felt like the worst person in the world. We battled through it though.
On my way out, I apologized to everyone and tried to be gracious. I made eye contact with a fellow parent in the room who gave me this nod. She knew what I was going through. It was a bonding moment, honestly. We did okay. We survived.
We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?
I’m not a scheduled person. It’s a simple thing, but being a dad has helped me establish routines. It’s helped me in my work. In chores around the house. The old adage—don’t leave something for tomorrow that you can do today—is essential in fatherhood. You have to learn that lesson. Being a dad of two boys has taught me how to order my life. I needed that.
We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
I enjoy our Saturday mornings together in what now has become a ritual. We start our day by making coffee. He perks up when I tell him “we’re making mom some coffee!” And he loves that he’s helping out. This simply involves him holding a scoop and following me around the kitchen while I decide how hipster I want to be (drip, French press, Chemex). Then we head off to the market to pick up items for breakfast. The list is pretty standard now: fresh squeezed orange juice, bacon from the butcher, eggs, and pastries from the bakery. He feels like he’s on the most excellent adventure every Saturday, and I agree.