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What It's Like to Have a Paid 12-Week Paternity Leave

Photograph by Twenty20

Amazon is my best friend. She's always there when I need her. She brings me diapers, dustbuster filters, baby biker Halloween costumes and crunchy natural peanut butter whenever I need them. She's always awake to talk to me, even when I reach out at 2 a.m. because I forgot my husband needed new black socks or wanted to try that Yonanas frozen banana-ice cream maker.

I was even more proud to call Amazon my bestie when she recently announced that her male employees are now entitled to six weeks of paid paternity leave, regardless of whether they're becoming a biological or adoptive dad. (Accompanying the new change, birth mothers will now be allotted 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. Amazon also instituted a new "leave-share" program which allows employees to share a portion of their six-week paid leave with spouses/partners lacking paid leave through their own employers.)

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Six weeks of paternity leave. That sounds like a dream. Most husbands get one week, max—and some of them don't even feel like they can take that full week without somehow being looked down upon for skipping out on work. My husband took a week off with our first daughter, born via a Monday C-section, so we were in the hospital through Thursday and only really had Friday and the weekend to be home as a family. With my second birth, I was elated to naturally go into labor on a Friday night: Baby came early Saturday morning, we stayed in the hospital for the weekend, then had the full week at home together before bookending it with a second weekend.

But six weeks? Dreamy. And that's a short stint compared with Netflix's new policy of unlimited leave for new parents (moms and dads) that allows them to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child's birth or adoption.

So when I met a dad in our older daughter's soccer class and found out that he's in the midst of a paid 12-week paternity leave, I jumped at the chance to pick his brain and learn what the experience has been like. (His BabyDaddy? Google.) While our kids dribbled and passed, we snuck out for a quick interview at the snack table.

The dad: Mike

How many kids: Three (ages 3, 2, 5 weeks)

How have your paternity leaves evolved with each child?

"When our first child was born, I worked at a 200-person startup, and there was no paternity leave at all. She was born on a Friday, I didn't go to work that Monday and was back at work Tuesday. So basically, I took a one-day leave. With our second, I was working at Google, and they had a seven-week paternity policy at that point. They let you spread it out, so I took three weeks off initially and then spread the rest out. In between our second and third kids, Google increased their policy to 12 weeks; I'm taking 10 weeks up front."

A common response is disbelief, or people say, 'Shut up, you're lying.'

Do most of the men take the full 12 weeks?

"Since they increased the policy from seven, which was already really generous, to 12, most men are taking a big chunk up front. There's no stigma; it's built into the corporate culture."

Any judginess from outsiders?

"I think it's a little more like shock—very few other companies do that. A common response is disbelief, or people say, 'Shut up, you're lying.'" (Full disclosure: That is precisely what I said to Mike when he first told me.)

What have you been doing?

"We've been taking lot of walks—my wife and I take one a day with the baby, and I usually take another one with the older two kids on our own. We go to the aquarium. It allows you to actually look at calendars of other events; instead of going to the aquarium during the one free minute you have, you look at their calendar, look to see when the free day is, and go then.

And I get to come to more of the kids' activities, like soccer. Mia's been taking this class for almost a year and I'd never been to one. She used to come home and say, 'Daddy, I beat the boys,' and I never had any idea what she meant. Now I come every week and I see what she means: The kids all race across the field and she beats the boys."

Does all of this time off mean you wake up with the baby in the middle of the night?

"My wife, Nicki, is nursing, but I do get up for one feeding a night. I bring the baby to Nicki then bring him back to his room, soothe him and put him back down. (Nicki confirmed this, adding, "he's able to be a more equal partner in helping with the baby. When the baby wakes up during the night, Mike gets out of bed, changes him and brings him to me to nurse. This makes it feel much more like we are in this journey together and it doesn't all fall to me.")

With [our first], I got up too, but I was exhausted because I was working during the day, up at night …There was a point three weeks in when I had a to moderate a panel at a 9 a.m. conference. I had the 4 a.m. feeding. I rolled over and said to Nicki, "I will give you $1000 if you do this feeding." She rolled over so I did it anyway. I was on stage at 9 a.m. and I was fumbling over my words. I wasn't at my best because I was sleep-deprived at work. This time, I can be present in the moment and don't need to worry about squeezing everything in."

(My wife) has roughly four weeks paid, four weeks paid at 60 percent and our weeks with no pay. It's crazy—I have 12 weeks fully paid.

How has an extended paternity leave benefited you and your family as a team?

"I'm more in tune with Nicki. She's breastfeeding the baby, and it's such a task. She's on a three-hour cycle all day long. I think it's easier for her to have me around, have me be there, have a better understanding of everything that goes on. When she has issues breastfeeding, like pain on one side, hot baths help, so in between feedings, she'll pass the baby off to me and gets to take a good 45-minute hot bath. She doesn't even need to bring the monitor in because I'm there.

Plus, there's the family bonding: Just being there is huge. Nicki and I get a lot of time together. We'll explore new parts of our neighborhood while walking with the baby; everyday is a little bit of an adventure.

We have had lots of family coming in, so we plan fun things like Cubs games, big dinners with all of our friends."

Does your wife have a generous leave policy, too?

"She has roughly four weeks paid, four weeks paid at 60 percent and our weeks with no pay. It's crazy—I have 12 weeks fully paid and it comes from a totally different bucket than my vacation time and sick leave. But the day she goes back to work, she won't have a single vacation day left because she had to use it all as maternity."

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Do you think it will be difficult for your kids when you return to work?

"Our oldest is getting used to having me around, so it will be hard when I go back. She is in school three days a week and now she wants me to take her every day.

This morning, I asked her, 'Do you know what we're doing today?' and she said, very deliberately, 'We're going to soccer, and daddy's taking me.'"

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