It’s time to change work-first cul­ture that boxes in dads

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Sin­gle­tary

We too of­ten re­duce fa­thers’ con­tri­bu­tions to what they bring fi­nan­cially to the fam­ily. And that’s got to stop.

Here’s an in­ter­est­ing find­ing from a 2013 re­port by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter: Just 41 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say that one of a fa­ther’s most im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­i­ties is pro­vid­ing in­come for his chil­dren.

“Be­ing a fa­ther in this era of chang­ing fam­ily struc­tures and con­verg­ing gen­der roles means more than bring­ing home a pay­check or de­liv­er­ing pun­ish­ment to a mis­be­hav­ing child,” the re­port said.

Still, in many work­places, if a fa­ther wants to take off time to help with a new­born or be a stay-at-home par­ent, it’s seen in a neg­a­tive light. But wouldn’t our work­places be bet­ter if both women and men felt the free­dom to take leave to care for their chil­dren?

This Fa­ther’s Day, in­stead of a tie or cologne he prob­a­bly will never spritz on any­way, give the gift of “All In: How Our Work-First Cul­ture Fails Dads, Fam­i­lies, and Busi­nesses— And How We Can Fix It To­gether” (Harper One, $25.99) by Josh

Levs, an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and ex­pert on father­hood. I’ve cho­sen his book for this month’s Color of Money Book Club.

“Mil­lions of work­ing dads want more time at home to raise their kids. But so­ci­ety doesn’t al­low it. It’s boxing us in,” Levs writes.

Two years ago, Levs bat­tled with his em­ployer, CNN, when he wanted to take time off to care for his new­born daugh­ter, who was born pre­ma­turely.

At the time, here’s who had the op­tion of tak­ing 10 paid weeks of parental leave: bi­o­log­i­cal moth­ers and par­ents car­ing for a child who was adopted or born through sur­ro­gacy. If an em­ployee’s same-sex do­mes­tic part­ner adopted a child, that worker, even if he or she wasn’t a co-adop­tive par­ent, could take 10 paid weeks, Levs said. But bi­o­log­i­cal fa­thers were al­lowed only two weeks of paid leave.

“I was fully in sup­port of all th­ese peo­ple get­ting 10 paid weeks,” he said. “The prob­lem was ex­clud­ing dads likeme from hav­ing the same op­tion.”

Time Warner, the par­ent com­pany of CNN, has since changed its leave pol­icy, and now fa­thers like Levs get six paid weeks.

I im­me­di­ately thought of “Lean In” as I read “All In.” Both seek to mo­ti­vate. In “Lean In,” au­thor Sh­eryl Sand­berg, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Face­book, en­cour­ages women to be more as­sertive in their ca­reers but says that for them to do so, their hus­bands or part­ners must share in fam­ily care­giv­ing.

Levs points out that by and large, men have stepped up their fam­ily role, but work­place poli­cies (writ­ten or un­writ­ten) of­ten stand in the way of their be­ing an “all-in” par­ent. Levs en­cour­ages men to fight for more leave. Man up by pow­er­ing down a bit at work, he says.

“By op­er­at­ing within work struc­tures that haven’t stretched out with fam­ily life, we’re suf­fer­ing un­nec­es­sar­ily,” he writes. “We’re los­ing sleep, wast­ing in­cred­i­ble amounts of time in traf­fic, experiencing a some­times danger­ous level of stress, and miss­ing out on a chance to stop and en­joy each day. Women have done a great job of speak­ing out about this. It’s time for men to join in— in a big way.”

Levs presents a lot of re­search that shows that men want leave poli­cies that don’t dis­crim­i­nate. But when they take time off, they are pun­ished. One study found that men who take ca­reer breaks or re­duce their hours for fam­ily rea­sons get sharply re­duced earn­ings when they re­turn to their pre­vi­ous sched­ules. The stud­ies show that “the need to prove mas­culin­ity is keep­ing men at the of­fice for far too many hours,” he writes.

In the book, you’ll find ac­tion plans and rec­om­men­da­tions to cre­ate fam­ily-friendly work en­vi­ron­ments, in­clud­ing en­cour­ag­ing more telecom­mut­ing and flex­i­ble sched­ules. He’s got some great ideas for dads to find bal­ance be­tween work and home.

But what is most valu­able about this book is Levs’s pas­sion and mission. Dads should read it for the sup­port­ive mes­sage that you are not alone. You are not Mr. Mom. You are Mr. Dad, a fa­ther who shouldn’t get a fem­i­nine moniker or be seen as less of a ded­i­cated em­ployee be­cause you want to be a care­giver just like any good mother.

So to all the fa­thers out there who have gone all-in when it comes to par­ent­ing: Be en­cour­aged, be­cause your chil­dren and your fam­ily will be so much bet­ter off.

Just in time for Fa­ther’s Day, I’ll be host­ing a live on­line chat about “All In” at noon Eastern on June 18 at wash­ing­ton­

dis­cus­sions. Levs will join me to take your ques­tions.

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