On Father’s Day: Keep Your Gift and Give Me Child Care
While I would love to write a Father’s Day ode to my feisty three-year-old son, Rafa—who recently has taken to stomping around the house and roaring like a dinosaur starting at 5:30 a.m.—it’s hard to feel celebratory.
Instead, I feel flattened—and frankly appalled—by how our country treats parents, families, and children. For example, after undergoing a crash C-section, 48-year-old single momSylvia Johnston was forced to return to her accounting business only a few weeks after her son Bodhi was born. That meant paying $400 a week for child care—on top of $2,180 a month for rent—which ultimately bankrupted her.
“If it wasn’t for my child, I would probably have stepped out in front of the bus by now.”
Sylvia’s experience is the rule in this country—not the exception.
In 32 states and Washington D.C., sending your infant to a child care center costsmore than annual in-state college tuition; and nationally, itaverages $13,209 a year. Even if you can afford child care, wait lists are often up to two years long.
This Father’s Day, I call on my fellow dads to view United States’ child care crisis as theirs to help solve. Because child care is not—and never has been—a “women’s issue.” It’s a national crisis that hurts both families and early educators, saddles our economy, and prevents the people we love the most from realizing their full potential.
Last November, I joined the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) as its Vice President for Strategy and Policy. In my interview with our President and CEO, Fatima Goss Graves, I raised a question that I was grappling with:
“Do you really want me, a straight guy, to work here?”
Fatima replied: “Yes. We need more men working on these issues.”
She’s right: more men need to get off their asses and do something about what’s happening to women and families across our country. It seems that in Congress, dads are finally leaping to their feet.
In early 2023, after capturing the media’s attention for wearing his baby on the House floor, Representative Jimmy Gomez launched the Dads Caucus to push for “a national paid family and medical leave program, affordable and high-quality child care, and the expanded Child Tax Credit.” All policies that NWLC has been backing for years.
However, it’s important to recognize that several months before Gomez’s baby-wearing debut, Representative Rashida Tlaib launchedthe Mamas Caucus to no applause or mass publicity, which is symbolic of the fundamental problem here:
There is a sexist double standard for parenting that’s rooted in patriarchy. It’s the same double standard that praises dads when they change diapers, and creates buzz in response to Representative Gomez while ignoring the same efforts from Representative Tlaib.
Of course, what we need long term is to right-size our culture alongside our policies. In the meantime, however, dads can leverage their privilege for good:
“If it took Jimmy Gomez starting a Dads Caucus to get The New York Times to call me to talk about the Mamas Caucus,” said Representative Tlaib, “then I’m all in.”
I’m all in, too. I’m all in because I’ve seen first-hand how hard it is for working families to survive without basic, common sense supports. My mother had to abandon her education and career to take care of me and my siblings. Whenever I got sick at school, my father would leave his factory job to pick me up. Even though that meant worrying for the rest of the week about the size of his check.
I recognize that things are different for me than they were for my parents. My partner and I can afford child care, and have the flexibility in our schedules to take time off work, which means I have the privilege of being able to focus on being a dad. I can enjoy experiencing, vicariously through my son, a first ice-cream cone, or first watermelon slice—instead of worrying whether I’ll have to choose between making rent or the monthly child care payment.
That’s not the case for millions of parents across our country, who spend a significant amount of their time and energy making sure they have enough work and income to pay their bills; piecing together child care coverage; working through sickness and delaying necessary medical services.
The truth is what most families in this country have in common is that they’re burdened by the high cost and lack of available child care options.
During the pandemic, Congress invested in child care to stabilize the system and provide much-needed relief. But, some of that funding runs out at the end of September threatening the limited progress we have made. What parents desperately need right now is a child care system that is affordable, accessible, and universal for all families in the U.S. That’s one of my priorities, and it should be for every single other dad in Congress, and across our country, too.