The 36-year-old co-founder of Initialized Capital and Reddit opened up in a new personal essay for NYT Parenting about his decision to take his 16 weeks of leave when he and wife, Serena Williams, welcomed their 1-year-old daughter, Olympia, in September 2017.
“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,” he wrote.
Noting that Williams faced “near-fatal complications” during Olympia’s birth, Ohanian expressed how important his time off was to their family.
“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,” he recalled of the tennis pro who had an emergency C-section. “She was on medication. She couldn’t walk.”
Ohanian noted that his time with Olympia early on made him more sure of himself as a parent.
“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,” he wrote. “As an only child with no cousins, I didn’t grow up around babies; in fact, I had never held one until my daughter was born. At first, holding her terrified me. I am a giant and she’s so tiny… What if I break her? I didn’t -- which was encouraging -- and then I learned how to calm her crying, rock her to sleep and handle her toddler years with grace.”
He also insisted that the traditional gender roles in their household had been erased thanks to his paternity leave.
“Taking leave also set me off on the right foot for sharing parental responsibilities,” he said. “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 is speaking out in order to promote more fathers taking paternity leave. In the essay, he acknowledges that a lot of families don’t have the “privilege” of having so much or any time off, noting the U.S. is “the only industrialized country that doesn’t mandate some form of paid family leave.” He added that even when dads are given paternity leave, they don’t always feel comfortable taking it.
“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. “I get that not every father has the flexibility to take leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career. But my message to these guys is simple: Taking leave pays off, and it’s continued to pay dividends for me two years later.”
For more from Ohanian and Williams, watch the clip below: