Serena Williams’ Husband Recently Wrote An Op-Ed With a Message to New Dads

Tennis icon Serena Williams has been a vocal advocate for mothers balancing careers and childcare since giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in 2017. Her husband, Alexis Ohanian is publicly launching an initiative for fathers in partnership with Dove Men + Care that seeks paid leave time for new dads called Pledge for Paternity Leaveaccording to CNBC.

Alexis Ohanian and Serena Williams | ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Despite some men being given this benefit, Ohanian says that there is still a stigma present that can prevent fathers from taking permissable time off. He recently penned an article for NYT Parenting encouraging new dads to override traditional thinking and claim what is theirs.

First-hand experience

The need for paternity leave hit home for Ohanian when Williams endured major medical complications during and after the delivery of their daughter. “Then came Olympia, after near-fatal complications forced my wife, Serena, to undergo an emergency C-section,” he wrote. “Serena spent days in recovery fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms. When we came home with our baby girl, Serena had a hole in her abdomen that needed bandage changes daily. She was on medication. She couldn’t walk.”

Ohanian, who is the co-founder of Reddit, saw that while he and Williams had the monetary ability and his company’s paternity leave plan in place, they still found their situation to be challenging. “Serena and I were lucky enough to have help at home and many other advantages working in our favor. But even with all of that privilege, including my ability to focus solely on my family and not worry about keeping my job, it was still incredibly difficult,” he admitted. “Nothing could have dragged me away from my wife and daughter in those hours, days and weeks — and I’m grateful that I was never forced to choose between my family and my job.”

Trying to erase the stigma

Ohanian referred to a study that shows for fathers who do get paternity leave, many don’t take it for fear of losing their job or level of seniority. “… even in countries that provide parental leave for fathers, a study conducted by Promundo, an international nonprofit, found that fewer than half of new dads take advantage of the full benefit — though the same study found that most dads want more time at home in those first months after a child’s birth,” he wrote.

Williams’ husband discovered that while paternity leave isn’t necessarily a ‘new’ idea, it still comes attached with a stigma. “So why aren’t they taking the leave they’re entitled to? The short answer is stigma. Men are conditioned to be breadwinners, exclusively — and another mouth to feed calls for more bread on the table (to say nothing of college tuition) — so off to work we go,” he wrote in his essay. “Our sense of duty is often fear-based: Men assume their bosses will frown on paternity leave, so we don’t dare to go there.”

Ohanian went on to quote another study that focused on men’s perceptions and fear about their employment. “A recent study conducted by my friends at PL+US, a national paid-leave advocacy group, found that 84 percent of expectant fathers plan to take leave, but only half believe their employer supports them. Nearly a third of dads think that taking leave could negatively impact their career. We could miss out on a promotion. We could become obsolete. We could get fired. Career fear is powerful,” he wrote.

The payoffs

The Reddit co-founder acknowledged that while some may not feel confident about taking parental leave, but the benefits are worth the risk. “I get that not every father has the flexibility to take leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career,” he wrote. “But my message to these guys is simple: Taking leave pays off, and it’s continued to pay dividends for me two years later… Spending a big chunk of time with Olympia when she was a newborn gave me confidence that I could figure this whole parenting thing out. Taking leave also set me off on the right foot for sharing parental responsibilities. Two years later, there is no stigma in our house about me changing diapers, feeding Olympia, doing her hair or anything else I might need to do in a pinch.”

Ohanian went on to say that he is continuing his crusade for parental leave, writing, “Getting dads (and in turn, families) off on the right foot begins at birth, and it can’t just be up to individual businesses to ensure that happens. We need a federal bill that mandates quality paid family leave for everyone.”

He ended his essay with a message to new dads, hoping to empower them to take the leap and take the leave. “Until that happens, dads, let me be your air cover,” he offered. “I took my full 16 weeks and I’m still ambitious and care about my career. Talk to your bosses and tell them I sent you.”