Did you know that more than a third of Millennials are parents? This month, as part of June Dads Month of Action, Young Invincibles is shedding light on the experiences of young fathers. As we continue our celebration of fatherhood this month, these stories highlight what it means to be a young father. From paid family leave to increased access to childcare, Millennial fathers strongly support policies that help young families and ensure a brighter future for their kids. Meet Rob, Kareem, and Andrew — all young fathers– and read about their perspectives on how society views their roles, the barriers they’ve faced to spending time with their families, and some of the hopes and dreams they have for their children.
From the beginning, I have strived to be an equal and involved parent with my wife, by society doesn’t always give fathers the resources and respect to be equal parents.
When speaking with an employer about paid family leave for fathers, I was told that “we have other benefits” and that “you can bank a week of vacation” for that. My state had no Paid Family Leave policy to support families, and among the several jobs I’ve worked, I only received parental leave days.
In the first days of my children’s lives I primarily cared for them while my wife rested. I make a point of being a part of every day of my children’s lives and my wife and I share roles equally. However, to do so, I have to consistently overcome societal hurdles that label me as the secondary parent and prevent fathers from being equally able to care for their children. When it comes to child care and other issues facing parents, we need to view it as a parent’s issue, not only a mother’s issue. Otherwise, we’re disadvantaging families overall.
Life is not easy being a Millennial and a father. My family and I have faced a host of challenges with respect to health care, financial security, and student debt. But my family is what makes it worth it in the end.
In 2008, at the age of 20, fatherhood unexpectedly materialized with the arrival of my four-year-old stepson. My wife was a teenage mother, and when we met she was constantly working to overcome the stigma. I was finishing my undergraduate studies at the University of California Riverside when we had our son in 2009. In 2014, while I was finishing graduate studies at the University of Redlands, we experienced a difficult birth with our daughter. She was born premature at 33 weeks, which caused a stage IV brain bleed in the temporal and occipital lobes. After a 59-day stay in the intensive care unit, we came home— she has now received a cerebral palsy diagnosis.
With the birth of both my children, I was starting new jobs and had minimal leave hours, thus rendering me unable to take the desired time to spend with my newborn children and still receive a paycheck. Even though my state passed Paid Family Leave, I did not meet the criteria to qualify for the to benefit. I had to return to work two weeks after my daughter’s birth. She qualifies for special care through state services, but far too often, necessary and urgent care is delayed or inaccessible. Appointments are scheduled daily, sometimes up to four per day, which is a challenge when I work and my wife balances a lively two-year-old with tending to our older boy’s schooling and sports events.
Having access to childcare for a developmentally disabled child is neither possible nor affordable. There are days my wife calls me on the brink of an emotional breakdown because the stress of raising a child with developmental disabilities is at times far too challenging. Too often, I worry about my wife’s overall health because, like many mothers, she sacrifices her personal well-being to provide and ensure the best care for her children.
Through my educational journey, I’ve been saddled with close to $70,000 in private and federal student loans, and still accruing interest. We have received support from both of our parents, which helps, but still does not provide our family the opportunity of home ownership. Seeking housing elsewhere is not an option at the time, considering consistency in care is monumental to the ongoing treatment of my daughter’s condition and maintaining steady residence for our sons as well.
Our struggle is not uncommon, in fact, throughout it all, I wouldn’t change our circumstances. I refuse to complain, but I feel it is important to highlight reality in hopes that in the future, our laws and society will become more understanding to families. We are surviving and doing so through the help of family and friends. My children have access to both their grandparents and immediate family— we laugh, love, and argue, but we remain intact. Our challenges will not consume us and we will not be a victim of our hardship — our triumph is rooted in how we overcome circumstance daily.
Fatherhood has brought many changes to my life: It’s difficult to stay up past 10 p.m., for instance, and I’ve gotten re-acquainted with morning hours only known during my college years. I care much less about making myself look foolish in public if it means I can get my son to laugh, and I now consider things ‘cool’ that would have earned my disapproval just a few years ago.
But with changes brought on by parenthood have come new joys. One of these joys is story time with my son. Story time is an opportunity to foster my son’s creative mind, and it’s also one of the many ways we bond. This time together didn’t happen by accident, either. Language acquisition and the creative mind are sparked very early in a child’s life. The earlier we can foster language development and creativity in our children, the better their educational outcomes later in life. Knowing what this time has meant for my son only affirms my hope that our society can promote greater access to age-appropriate resources for more children and their families.
Early literacy is fundamental to the long-term growth and development of children. Programs like Reading is Fundamental in Washington, DC, offer free books and literacy programs to children, helping them grow and develop as individuals who are creative and connected to the world around them. We need to extend our support for our children by ensuring they’re consistently engaged and challenged, through access to learning materials, quality childcare, and making sure their caretakers can look after them when they need it most. And when parents and communities work together, we can widen the access our children have to opportunities that show them we care, support their learning and development, and prepare them for the next steps in their education and wellness.