This has been a holiday season filled with negative news. From the problems on Wall Street to those on Main Street, all we've heard these past months is that people are losing their money, their homes and their jobs. Families are forced to cut back as their paychecks are stretched to their limits and beyond. In times like these, heartwarming stories are hard to find, but I found one recently from a friend whom I ran into while he was walking his dog.
His wife had given birth to their first child over the Thanksgiving weekend, and the little girl's arrival was as early as it was cherished. I asked him how he was balancing work with his new bundle of joy, and he told me something which absolutely astounded me and warmed my heart. His employer, a law firm here in Washington, was giving him four weeks' paid vacation purely because he was a new father. This was on top of the normal paid vacation he accrues throughout the year. Now, we've heard of maternity leave, and more often than not, such leave is unpaid. But what this man's business was offering - four weeks of paid paternity leave - is something special that should be celebrated.
Instead of slogging off to work during the holiday season, this husband is able to spend his days with his wife, taking a break from their normally hectic schedules to be together as they raise their child. Rather than having to toil away for nine or 10 hours at his desk, this father can spend these precious moments feeding, diapering and loving his new daughter. With this time off, this young man can support his home by doing all those little tasks that come with a new baby and give his wife the rest she deserves.
What this man's employer has given him is the gift of time, and with it, the gift of family. And make no mistake: These are the most precious gifts one can receive this or any other holiday season.
We hear so much about fathers who aren't there for their children. Sometimes these are "deadbeat dads" who have made the serious choice to be absent from their baby's life, leaving the mother alone to raise their child while trying to find the money to do so. Often the mothers and children in these broken families become or remain impoverished, making the child's path in life that much harder. Other fathers, though, are forced by circumstance to spend large amounts of time away from their families, whether they want to or not. To put food on the table, these men work at demanding jobs with long hours, a long commute, or both. The economic realities of these hard times strip these fathers of their ability to be physically present in the lives of their families. These children end up growing up without really knowing their fathers, and that is a profound tragedy.
What this law firm is doing should be commended. It is a business that values families over profits. It cares more that its employees are able to raise healthy children in stable families than it does about adding a few dollars to its bottom line. It wants employees who not only are good company stewards, but good stewards of the community and of their families. At a time when money is drying up and businesses are laying workers off, downsizing or going out of business, this law firm puts its family values above all else.
What this story can teach us this holiday season is that there is still hope in the world of business. Stories about CEOs who ran their companies into the ground but left with the support of a "golden parachute" - or about business leaders who stuck stubbornly to failing business models, ultimately costing thousands of people their jobs - contrast with those businesses that have their values in the right place. For every story of corruption and greed, we find a business that conducted itself honorably and decided to forgo a little profit so that its employees could have a better life. These are the companies that will survive economic downturns, those that value their employees and their communities in this way.
Why shouldn't this be an aspiration for all businesses? Of course, not every business can afford to pay employees for a month's time where they didn't work, but too many businesses merely pay lip-service to the notion of supporting families. It does not take much.
Families, not dollars, should be valued in our society. If a law firm can find the money to pay an employee to stay at home with his newborn for a month during the holidays, surely we all can do something to place family values first during this holiday season. That would be truly heartwarming.
Armstrong Williams' column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.