Johan Bavman photographed fathers in Sweden, which has generous parental leave
Sweden's policies encourage fathers to take just as much leave as mothers
When photographer Johan Bavman became a father for the first time, he took more than a passing wonder about how his native Sweden is said to be the most generous nation on Earth for parental leave.
He immersed himself in fatherhood – twice over, you might say.
He used his photography to document the real-life experience of other fathers taking full advantage of Sweden’s extraordinary program, which allows mothers and fathers to take long, long leaves from their careers so they can care for their newborns.
Get this: Sweden grants a total of 480 calendar days of parental leave, with 390 of them paid at 80% of income, with a maximum of 3,160 euros a month or $3,474. The remaining 90 days are paid at a flat-rate benefit of 20 euros a day, or $22.
But there’s a catch. Fathers have to share that leave with mothers.
So to promote both parents to raise their children, Sweden has mandated that 60 of the 480 days be “daddy months” or “partner months.” If the 60 daddy days aren’t used, they are lost, reducing the maximum leave to 420 days.
The country also created a “gender equality bonus”: the more days that parents share the leave equally, they get a bonus that could total up to 1,500 euros, or $1,649.
The idea is for both parents to share the joys and struggles of raising infants.
In reality, only 12% of Swedish couples equally share the 480 days of leave, Bavman said, with women continuing to lead the way as the stay-at-home parent and men as the careerist.
Still, Bavman mused last summer about how the policy impacts those men who use the full measure of their parental leave.
At first, Bavman had difficulty finding such men.
But the fathers he did find and photograph, he captured their devotion in realistic imagery.
“I realized while I was talking to these dads, these dads are struck by how important the bonding is between you and the children,” said Bavman, who now has a 3-year-old son, Viggo, with partner Linda Stark, a freelance journalist.
“I didn’t want to bring out fathers as superdads,” Bavman said. “I wanted to bring out these role models which people can connect to.
“I want to have those dads who can also show their tiredness … which comes with being home with your children. It’s a hard full-time job. This is something that we have been taking for granted for hundreds of years. This is something that mothers have never been recognized for.”
He also found moments of humor, with one child nearly ripping apart the shirt of his busy father.
The fathers have become more understanding of their wives and even their own mothers, Bavman said. Some are now considering a career change to accommodate their parenthood.
“Being home nine months, they get time to think about their life,” the photographer said.
Bavman is looking for a total of 60 fathers to photograph, to culminate in an exhibition and a book.
So far he’s found 35 worthy of his lens.
Johan Bavman is a freelance photographer based in Malmo, Sweden. From 2008-2011, he worked as a staff photographer at Sydsvenskan, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers.