Father Tim Banks with his children Vivienne Napier, 6, and George Banks, 8. Photo: Jay Cronan
When Tim Banks' son was born, he was "a law-talking type on a career trajectory" but didn't hesitate to take the paternity leave afforded to him.
The month he took off may have started out as opportunistic in the family friendly public sector, but he soon realised the value of the leave.
"It was absolutely essential in terms of me being allowed to bond with the new kid and for my partner to get a little bit of a rest," he said.
"I made a point of being the person who'd get up for every feed and nappy change and everything to allow her to sleep."
He also made the decision to change his career focus and move to four days per week.
By the time his daughter was born two years later, he was in the private sector but hadn't accrued the two years of service required to qualify for the company's paternity leave.
He used other leave entitlements to ensure some more time at home with his family.
"Fortunately on the weekend after [she] was born I went and broke my collarbone playing hockey and so I had several weeks off on sick leave."
While it rendered him not as much help with the newborn, he was able to help with the toddler and take a lot of pressure off.
The benefits of this kind of leave for fathers and mothers has been well-documented, but a new international study has revealed that father's leave can also have significant impact on children's cognitive development.
According to the study - drawn from longitudinal data from Australia, Denmark, Britain and the United States by a team of international researchers - fathers who take a long period of leave (two weeks or more) after the birth of a child are more likely to regularly engage in early child caring tasks such as feeding and reading bed-time stories than other fathers who do not take time off at birth.
The study, which will be presented to a conference in Melbourne next month, also found that children whose fathers were more involved did better in their early years, had greater cognitive development and better school readiness at ages four and five.
The study's Australian author, Dr Jennifer Baxter, said the results revealed a strong relationship between fathers' leave-taking at birth and their subsequent involvement in their lives.
"Fathers' leave is linked to more involvement in childcare activities such as helping a baby to eat, changing nappies, getting up in the night, bathing and reading to a child, compared to fathers who took no leave," Dr Baxter said. "There was some evidence of children having better cognitive outcomes when fathers were more involved early on in their lives.''
''In Australia, fathers' involvement was linked with better scores for one out of four cognitive tests. Children also had better school readiness when their father had been more involved early on. However, the strongest association was observed in the United Kingdom, where children with highly involved fathers were faring better at ages two to three and four to five according to a number of cognitive tests, than children with less involved fathers.''
It found in each country, the overwhelming majority of fathers (more than 80 per cent) took some leave at the birth of their child. In Australia, 60 per cent of fathers took two weeks or more leave at the birth of a child compared to 91 per cent in Denmark and 33 per cent in the US.
Dr Baxter, a senior researcher with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said in Australia and the US, public policies to promote fathers' involvement were less developed.
The Australian results were based on surveys with 4000 families with children who were born in 2003-2004. Since then paternity leave is likely to have increased with the introduction of father's paid leave earlier this year. Under the Coalition's paid parental leave policy, from July 1, 2015, fathers will be eligible for two weeks' leave at full salary.
Mr Banks tells expecting fathers to take as much time off as they can.
"The difference between two weeks at the start and six weeks at the start will make no difference to your employer but will make a big difference to your family.''