Sunday, June 17, 2001. 9:06 a.m. Father’s Day. I am pretty sure that was what the clock said that morning when my wife, Martha, gave me the greatest Father’s Day gift ever.
There, in a birthing room of Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, I held our first child, Ethan Leigh Milroy. Until that moment I thought my life was complete—I was married to a great woman, our careers were starting to take off, and we were healthy and enjoying our new life together. But with that little eight-pound boy in my arms, I somehow knew things were going to be different. I just didn’t know how different.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It began as an exciting day. I left Ethan and Martha at home asleep and headed into Toronto to make sure everything was set for an investor conference. It was my job to make sure the presentation was ready, so I had been running through slides with the tech support team.
Before the presentation started, there was a commotion around one of the organizers’ tables as word of a plane hitting a building in New York City was filtering out. None of us in the hotel lobby really knew what was happening, so the presentation went on. After it was done, I remember gathering around a TV with some folks from Corporate and Public Affairs.
As I watched the first tower go down I thought, What kind of world have we brought our child into? As it did for many people, my life changed on 9/11. On the train ride home, all I could think about was the need to make some important changes in my life. All I kept thinking was once time is gone, you can’t get it back.
Over the next few weeks, Martha and I began discussing the possibility of me taking some time to be at home with the baby. To be quite honest, at that time I didn’t even know what I should call it (a Parental Leave) or if it was even allowed (it was), as I hadn’t known any guy who had ever taken one!
With a supportive partner, I felt more comfortable and started to investigate the possibilities at TD. I was pleasantly surprised to find support for what I wanted to do. HR told me that while not many men had taken childcare leave, it was indeed “allowed” and that I would have a job for me when I came back after six months. My colleagues thought it was a great thing to do. My boss, who had young children of his own, was the most supportive and helped me plan how we would manage my absence from the department.
The transition from an office environment to being at home was challenging. I had no idea what needed to be done and how much there actually was to do! So while there were plenty of dirty diapers and unpredictable sleep schedules, there was also an incredible amount of bonding time with all the cuddles, cartoons and long walks with Ethan staring back at me from the stroller. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for hockey. To this day, I attribute my son’s love of the game to the time we spent watching Team Canada’s men and women win Gold in 2002 at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City!
Re-entering the workforce required another period of adjustment. While I was away for only six months, the bond I had developed with my son was not so easily put aside. When you are at home alone with an infant you become almost co-dependent.
There is a scene in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire that has always resonated with me. Robin Williams’ character, Daniel, says of his children: “I love them with all my heart. And the idea of someone telling me I can’t be with them, I can’t see them every day…It’s like someone saying I can’t have air. I can’t live without air, and I can’t live without them.”
With the Parental Leave now more than 10 years past, the experience of being a working parent has evolved. There are always arenas and dance studios to get to. Bath time has been replaced by homework supervision. The work is never done, but we find a way to make it work. For me, success on this front has everything to do with your partnerships—the first being with your “home” partner, the second with your employer.
Having a flexible employer can be an incredible benefit to dads. The perception by some fathers that it is somehow unmanly to be at home with children seems to be fading. I am so happy whenever a male co-worker approaches me to ask about my experience. That single action says to me, That man is considering doing this fantastic thing, a real life-changer, and I can help him see how positive an experience it was for me—and can be for him.
Kelly Milroy is assistant vice-president of investor relations with TD Bank Group and a proud flex-work father. Pictured above are Kelly, his wife, Martha, and their two children, Ethan and Regan.
© Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. Originally published on benefitscanada.com