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It wasn’t a convenient time for parental leave. Pete Buttigieg took it anyway

October 18, 2021, 12:51 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A prize-winning female author is revealed to be three men, employees and talent continue to protest Netflix’s Dave Chapelle special, and Pete Buttigieg is a new dad—and a voice for paid leave. Have a wonderful Monday!

– Leave it. Parental leave has become, to some degree, a bipartisan issue. But the issue slid back into partisanship last week as Republicans criticized Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for taking time with his new twins during a supply chain crisis and the hashing out of a major infrastructure bill.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson said on his show that Buttigieg, who welcomed twins with husband Chasten Buttigieg after a year of the adoption process, was away from his job on “paternity leave, they call it, trying to figure out how to breastfeed.” (Politico first described the secretary as “MIA.”) Carlson’s comments go beyond the usual rhetoric that discourages fathers from taking parental leave and veer into the homophobic. But Buttigieg, and the White House, have stayed focused on supporting the secretary’s choice and using his new parenthood as an example of why paid parental leave matters.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Buttigieg a “role model” for taking four weeks of leave. And it’s true that his choice is notable: one of the last cabinet secretaries to have a child while in the role, former Obama Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, took just a week off at the time. Buttigieg has now brought attention to the reality that his time out of office isn’t a vacation—and that welcoming a child is, in fact, “work.” “It may be time away from a professional role, but it’s very much time on,” he told the NYT.

As the NYT notes, no parent can know in advance exactly what they may miss at work when a child arrives or a loved one falls ill, requiring caregiving at home. For Buttigieg, his twins’ arrival happened to coincide with a busy time at work.

Taking leave is rarely, if ever, convenient—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it. As unpredictable as the workplace can be, it’s easier to forecast the eventual need to cover for employees than it is to predict far in advance when exactly a child will arrive or a parent will become sick.

Buttigieg didn’t let a demanding time at work stop him from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be with his new babies at home. As the Biden administration attempts to pass 12 weeks of paid parental leave in its major bill, the secretary may have done as much to promote his boss’s agenda as he could have from his full-time cabinet seat.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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"There are these big decisions on the macro level, affecting the global business. But when you get down to it, it’s just siblings being siblings."

-Actor Sarah Snook on the new season of Succession, which premiered on HBO last night

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