NEW YORK (CNNfn) - As another Father's Day arrives, workplace experts say more and more men in Corporate America are trading in brief cases for baby bottles and taking "paternity" leaves.
"Men are taking their roles as fathers much more seriously," said Charles Rodgers, chairman of WFD, a Boston workplace consulting firm. "Men don't want to sacrifice family involvement for 100 percent devotion to their careers any more."
The 1993 Family Leave Act entitles U.S. workers up to three months of time off without pay, but with benefits, for such things as a child's birth.
The law -- and changing workplace attitudes -- are apparently having an effect on working dads.
At AT&T, with 133,000 workers, the ratio of women to men on parental leave has dropped from a massive 400 to 1 in the 1980s to a significantly narrower 18 to 1 today.
"Our experience is probably not that much different from other companies," said AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson.
Corporate policies on paternal leave vary.
AT&T and Hewlett-Packard allow fathers to take up to a year off without pay, but with benefits.
NationsBank Corp. offers workers up to six weeks of paid time off (depending on their length of service), followed by unpaid time -- with benefits -- extending a leave to as much as six months.
Jeff James, 32, a cash-vault assistant at a NationsBank branch in Springfield, Mo., never considered taking paternity leave when his wife got pregnant last year -- until he learned that she's expecting triplets.
"My wife cried -- and my jaw dropped on the floor," James said. "That's when I decided I would need to take the leave."
At first, James worried that doing so would jeopardize his job. But his boss assured James that the position would be waiting for him when he returned.
Now, James' wife is due any day, and his leave will start when she gets home from the hospital.
"People I know outside the bank laughed," James said. "They said they couldn't believe men get time off for babies. I guess they think it's just for women."
Experts say that up until the late 1980s, men rarely took time off to care for kids.
Trend watchers say dads worried about the impact on their careers, or about getting branded as a "house husband." Some also dreaded the inevitable jokes around the office.
But experts say that now, changes in society have wiped away the stigma.
After all, there are more and more single dads, more and more two-career families -- and more and more men whose wives earn more than they do.
"It's a very slow, very steady change in the American family," Rodgers said.
At AT&T, computer programmer Howard Nathanson and his wife decided someone should stay home with their newborn daughter, Rebecca, during the child's first year.
Since Nathanson's wife, a Salomon Brothers vice president in New York, had the higher salary, she went back to work soon after giving birth, while Nathanson stayed home.
Today, Nathanson, 31, says his experience as "Mr. Mom" has had odd moments.
He was the only dad Rebecca's play group, and Nathanson has seen few men pushing strollers in the park.
But the programmer thinks he made the right decision for his daughter, now 17 months old.
Explains Nathanson: "There are certain things that are more important to me than my job."
-- Martine Costello