I am a husband. I am a father. I am a lawyer. I am those three things in that order. Yet often times in the midst of dealing with clients and deadlines, I forget about the true order of my life priorities. That said, I have never been ashamed of my priorities.
In my nine years practicing law, I have never taken an entire week off from work. When I got married, I only took the Thursday and Friday off before my wedding. When I planned my honeymoon, I made sure to schedule it around the Christmas and New Year holiday when my office was closed. When my wife and I had our first son last year, I only took two days off from work.
So this past November when we had our second son, I decided it was time to actually take one full week away from the office and spend it with my family. I put up an out of office email message and left a message on my voicemail stating that I was on paternity leave. (I actually worked the entire week I was on “leave,” simply working remotely).
While I fully expected to face a challenge having two boys who are only 14 months apart, I was not at all prepared to face the negative and condescending reaction to my use of the term “paternity leave” during my time off.
I was ridiculed by one counsel for openly admitting that I was on paternity leave. I was told by another attorney that putting paternity leave as a reason for being out of the office was a sign of weakness. And then, of course, I heard from multiple older attorneys that they were back in the office the same day their children were born. I’m fortunate to be part of a firm that doesn’t feel this way. But I’m in the minority.
This was not a piece I ever thought I would write, but enough is enough. Whether you are a lawyer or an NBA superstar, no father should ever be stigmatized for admitting that he prioritizes his family over everything else in his life.
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “typical millennial,” then you’re missing the point. First of all, I am unfortunately too old to be a millennial. Second, and more importantly, I understand not every father in our country is in a position to even consider taking time off from work for a vacation, let alone for paternity leave. My point is if you can take off a week to go frolicking around Europe, why should you feel ashamed to instead use that week to spend time with your wife and newborn? The answer is you shouldn’t.
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “we need to focus on maternity leave first,” well Amen. I am a huge proponent of women being entitled to maternity leave and this is something we should continue to focus on. But the fact is that men face a real backlash for taking any time away from work and calling it paternity leave, which also discourages healthy family support practices. My goal is to begin to chip away and eventually eradicate that stigma.
I am a husband, a father, and then a lawyer. It’s important to know your priorities, but it’s also important to be able to say them out loud without fear of criticism.
*Santo DiGangi is married to Stephanie and has two boys, Giuseppe and George. He is an attorney at Critton, Luttier & Coleman, LLP in West Palm Beach and President Elect of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division.