Sunday, we celebrated Colorado dads from Denver to Pueblo to Grand Junction. No doubt fathers everywhere received some well-deserved gratitude, spent time with family and friends, and maybe even enjoyed a delicious meal from the grill. But what about the days after?

We’ve stopped celebrating, and have gone right back to the status quo — embracing policies that have made life far more difficult on dads and moms than it needs to be.

Heading into this Father’s Day weekend, I’ve thought a lot about our state’s pro-family reputation, how parents are supported around the world and how we need to do better here at home.

Colorado likes to talk about family values, but so far we haven’t ‘walked the walk’ when it comes to paid family and medical leave — a policy that allows parents to take time off work to bond with their newborn baby or care for a seriously ill family member without losing their paycheck or their job.

Only 20% of Coloradans have access to this type of leave, despite the fact that it’s more important now than ever for so many of us. Instead, lots of moms and dads are forced back to work right when their families need them most because they simply can’t afford the alternative.

When my daughter was born in 2008, I went back to work a week later because I could not afford to take unpaid time off. On that first day back, I had missed several calls from my wife. It wasn’t until I reached her that I understood the gravity of the situation.

She was at a hospital 40 minutes away with a postpartum complication that caused profuse bleeding and required surgical intervention. My wife left in an ambulance just as my new daughter’s great-grandparents arrived to take care of her. I rushed to the hospital.

When I arrived, she was already in surgery. It was late, as I had been working at the Adams County Fair. I remember the loneliness of the empty hospital, the hollow halls, a lone beep echoing and a television with one name: my wife’s. It wasn’t until her listing moved from “surgery” to “recovery” that I breathed my first sigh of relief.

As she recovered in the days and weeks that followed, we still found ourselves in the same position. She would have to adjust to being a new mother on her own, while now also recovering from an emergency surgery. I still admire the strength it took for her to get through that process and I wish I could have been there for her, but I had to provide for our new family.

Four years later, we found ourselves in the exact opposite situation. With a baby boy on the way, I was lucky to have six weeks of employer-paid leave. Being able to spend that time with my wife and now two children gave us a lasting bond that serves as a foundation for the love we share as a family. I am not overstating it when I say that without this time to bond and grow, my family would not be as strong as it is.

Our society wants to be seen as pro-family, but in so many ways we fail to live up to our own expectations. Having to choose between family and work in the moments that matter most is a choice families shouldn’t have to make. Coloradans work hard and play by the rules and we’ve earned the right to paid family and medical leave.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about a potential ballot measure that would let Coloradans vote and decide on what is right for families ourselves. I’m ready to put this issue on the ballot, and I know others who feel the same way.

No matter who we are or where in Colorado we live, each of us will eventually need time to take care of ourselves or our loved ones. A strong paid family and medical leave policy will help us rebuild Colorado’s economy, keep our communities and workplaces healthy and safe and give working families the time they deserve to take care of each other.

So today, let’s celebrate the fathers in our lives, but tomorrow, let’s begin walking down a new path — one that will deliver the paid family and medical leave that all of our families need. It’s time for Colorado to finally live up to our values of putting family first.

Robert Lindgren grew up in Lakewood and Arvada, and lives in Westminster with his wife and two kids. If he could, he’d be celebrating Father’s Day at Casa Bonita or Lakeside Amusement Park.

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