The Editor Sir,
Paternity leave has peppered the media most recently with Minister Chuck most recently remarking that to qualify for paternity leave a man should either be married to the mother or have lived with her for even the three previous months. I agree with Minister Chuck! Paternity leave is for the purpose of caring for the mother and the baby, and the only proof of such a commitment on the part of a man is marriage, or at the very least cohabitation. Zooming in on paternity leave though may cause some amount of myopia; resulting in another shallow quick-fix to a broader issue of failing family life, which this paternity leave award may be able to help fix.
There is a serious need for better parenting, specifically faithful fathers in the home; men who will pour into, defend, and discipline their children and honour their wives (Yes, he should be a husband first). The positive impact of marriage and fathers being present is well documented and won’t be rehashed here, but deserves to form the focal point of many government initiatives, for eg. a long term plan against violent crime.
What if paternity leave could be used to bolster family life in Jamaica? I’m talking about a comprehensive model of positive paternity that has the potential to strengthen the family and the fabric of the nation. Built around paternity leave, the main gain. It is important that such a law doesn’t become ‘sperm-donor leave’ but that there are safeguards in place to accomplish what is in the best interest of the nation, stronger more committed fathers. These safeguards should be more than a paternity test but should include some kind of proof of commitment. The highest form of human commitment is marriage, where a man and wife stand before God and the government of Jamaica and commit to stand by each other “in sickness or in health, for better or for worse and forsaking all others”. Otherwise, three to six months of living together sounds reasonable, with the logical expectation that the father will continue to live there, possibly verified by a Justice of the Peace. An indication of long term commitment, i.e. beyond the child’s infancy is important because it is in the best interest of the country that fathers play their long term role well. The point is, this reward is something that should be earned by men who own up to their long term responsibilities, that boys joking around don’t qualify for. If you want leave, Man Up!
Additionally, this presents the opportunity for empowerment. The Ministry of Justice should consider creating something like a positive paternity and family life online course. This course is to be skillfully designed, culturally relevant and should have the ability to prompt the father to pursue couples or paternity counselling if necessary. Companies should be encouraged to support such a national move as part of their commitment to community and nation building. A strategy to target families of lower socio-economic standings should also be developed to incentivise marriage and positive parenting and paternity.
It’s about time we spent our energies on long lasting solutions to our nation’s problems, starting with empowering fathers with the tools for success, and challenging them to play their roles well.
Dr. Daniel Thomas
Love March Movement
Dr. Thomas currently serves as a junior resident on the Psychiatry Service at the Kingston Public Hospital and is president of the Love March Movement which advocates for sexual purity and the family in Jamaica