A man­i­festo for work­ing fathers

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Car­los Lozada

Josh Levs’s book on the chal­lenges of mod­ern fa­ther­hood is a good metaphor for its sub­ject. It’s a bit messy, overex­tended and too sure of it­self— yet its role is es­sen­tial, and its heart is en­tirely in the right place.

A lot like dads to­day. Amer­i­can fathers are more en­gaged in their chil­dren’s lives, and more likely to share house­hold du­ties and to ap­proach mar­ried life and par­ent­hood as equal part­ners than ever be­fore. The prob­lem, how­ever, is that “our laws, cor­po­rate poli­cies, and gen­der­based ex­pec­ta­tions in the work­place are straight out of the 1950s,” Levs writes. These con­di­tions un­der­cut “the free­dom to de­sign our lives in the ways that work best for our fam­i­lies and make us pro­duc­tive, sat­is­fied work­ers,” he ar­gues. “We’re all pay­ing a price for this— busi­ness own­ers, man­agers, moms, dads, and, most im­por­tant, chil­dren.”

Levs has in­ter­viewed many kinds of fathers: white-col­lar work­ers, stay-at-home dads, fathers in prison and in the mil­i­tary, di­vorced fathers, wid­ow­ers and dads of all races and back­grounds, chron­i­cling their ex­pe­ri­ences and ideas. “All In” seeks to be a sort of “Lean In” for men, and not just in the un­sub­tle ti­tle echo. Levs re­peat­edly in­vokes Face­book Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Sh­eryl Sand­berg and links their causes. “When she and I sat down at her of­fices in Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia, to speak for this book, we agreed: These struc­tures must change so that men and women have the chance to be all in both at work and at home,” Levs writes.

He has the in­di­ca­tors: About 1 in 6 stay-athome par­ents are men. When you com­bine paid work with house­hold chores and child care, moth­ers and fathers put in about the same amount of time. And men re­port plenty of work-life con­flict. They want more time with their kids. They con­sider fam­ily time when eval­u­at­ing a new job. Among the fathers he cites, Levs high­lights this typ­i­cal lament: “I know I have been an im­per­fect fa­ther. I know I have made mis­takes. I have lost count of all the times, over the years, when the de­mands of work have taken me from the du­ties of fa­ther­hood. . . . I knew I was miss­ing mo­ments ofmy daugh­ters’ lives that I’d never get back. It is a loss I will never fully ac­cept.” That frus­trated fa­ther? Pres­i­dent Obama. The au­thor de­votes the first third of the book to the bat­tle over paid parental leave. The Fam­ily and Med­i­cal Leave Act, signed into law by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in 1993, re­quires large em­ploy­ers to give care­givers, whether men or women, 12 weeks off af­ter the birth of a child. But about 40 per­cent of work­ers are not cov­ered by it, Levs re­ports, and even for those who are, the law doesn’t call for any pay. Even though about half of U.S. em­ploy­ers of­fer some paid ma­ter­nity leave (nor­mally by clas­si­fy­ing child­birth as a short-term dis­abil­ity), only about 14 per­cent of­fer paid pa­ter­nity leave. “Men should have the op­tion of stay­ing at home for care­giv­ing the same length of time women have,” Levs ar­gues. It’s good not just for them, he writes, but also for work­ing moth­ers, who would have greater op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­vance their ca­reers with a more equal co-par­ent along­side them. “If poli­cies keep push­ing women to stay home and push­ing men to run back to work,” Levs asks, “how will women keep work­ing up the ranks?”

Levs, a re­porter and colum­nist for CNN, de­tails his own bat­tle with his em­ployer, Time Warner, over paid pa­ter­nity leave, an ex­pe­ri­ence that sets the tone for the com­bat­ive, do-it-your­self ap­proach to the book. Even though moth­ers re­ceived 10 weeks of paid leave at the com­pany, as did men or women who had adopted chil­dren, bi­o­log­i­cal fathers got only two weeks. The pol­icy “ex­cludes one ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal, grow­ing mi­nor­ity group for an im­por­tant ben­e­fit,” he wrote to his hu­man re­sources team. “The net ef­fect is that the pol­icy pe­nal­izes my fam­ily. . . . It’s also out­dated, now that many men ful­fill these crit­i­cal roles at home.”

The com­pany did not budge, so Levs filed a com­plaint with the Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion. Soon af­ter the fil­ing— and the pub­lic­ity it gen­er­ated— Time Warner added an ex­tra week of leave for fathers and, a year later, re­lented even fur­ther. “Now dads likeme would get six paid weeks— a gi­ant leap for­ward,” Levs writes. “And moms would get even more time af­ter giv­ing birth. . . . The com­pany was show­ing a new­found un­der­stand­ing that, these days, moms and dads are all in this to­gether.”

It’s an in­struc­tive story, and Levs shares it with pride. To say that “a na­tional cel­e­bra­tion erupted” af­ter the com­pany’s pol­icy shift prob­a­bly over­states mat­ters, but I sup­pose it felt that way to the au­thor. Un­for­tu­nately, Levs also lay­ers the book with self­ag­gran­diz­ing tales of his for­ays in the work­life bat­tles. It is rel­e­vant to hear about the time sports-talk ra­dio hosts crit­i­cized a Ma­jor League Base­ball player for tak­ing time off when his child was born, for in­stance, but we don’t need to reread the in­dig­nant Tum­blr post Levs dashed off in re­sponse and the great feed­back he got. He dis­misses crit­ics as “trolls,” “anony­mous riffraff ” or “hate­ful strag­glers.” And he con­stantly pitches his book, telling read­ers to “hold a so­cial media day in which you pop­u­lar­ize a hash­tag, like All In,” or en­cour­ag­ing them to share copies of his book with oth­ers. (Re­lax, Josh! If read­ers have reached that pas­sage, they don’t need the hard sell any­more.)

His style may be over the top, but his ur­gency is com­mend­able. Levs is right that the work-life bal­ance de­bate is mainly hap­pen­ing among women, even though it in­volves all of us. Among the count­less re­views fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of “Lean In” in 2013, very few car­ried male by­lines. The prom­i­nent voices in that de­bate— peo­ple like Sand­berg and New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter— are women. “Women have done a great job of speak­ing out about this,” he writes. “It’s time for guys to join in.”

And guys tell Levs that they feel stig­ma­tized and that, when they put in for pa­ter­nity leave at work, and if they take it, their earn­ings and stand­ing suf­fer when they re­turn. (“Even Cana­dian dads face this stigma,” Levs says, in one ofmy fa­vorite lines of the book.) And more than a third of work­ing par­ents, male and fe­male, be­lieve they’ve been passed over for a pro­mo­tion or a raise be­cause of their need for a more flex­i­ble sched­ule. He high­lights “fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties dis­crim­i­na­tion” as an emerg­ing le­gal field that can help counter un­fair work­place poli­cies.

At times, Levs’s rec­om­men­da­tions seem too fo­cused on mid­dle- or up­per-mid­dle-class par­ents and work­ers— another sim­i­lar­ity his book has with Sand­berg’s. He cau­tions against over­schedul­ing your kids or chauf­feur­ing them to var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties as op­posed to giv­ing them more time to play, and he sug­gests that com­pa­nies or­ga­nize bus pick­ups for staffers, set­ting up mo­bile of­fices where em­ploy­ees can log on dur­ing their daily com­mutes, thus re­duc­ing their time at the of­fice. “These kinds of so­lu­tions ap­ply best to white-col­lar work­ers,” Levs ad­mits.

When he does ad­dress the chal­lenges fac­ing lower-in­come fam­i­lies, he of­ten lapses into wor­thy but vague ad­mo­ni­tions. Help­ing the work­ing poor “means ad­dress­ing the thorny is­sues of af­ford­able hous­ing, liv­ing wages, and paid time off for hourly work­ers,” he writes, and he calls for a “non­par­ti­san con­ver­sa­tion that fo­cuses on a sim­ple ques­tion: How can we make sure that hard­work­ing fam­i­lies have the ba­sics?” Ah, noth­ing like the na­tional-con­ver­sa­tion so­lu­tion! And where he does get more spe­cific — as with a sear­ing in­ter­view with a long­time ab­sen­tee dad who man­ages to re­con­nect with his chil­dren later in life, or in heart­felt con­ver­sa­tions with par­tic­i­pants in the Na­tional Fa­ther­hood Ini­tia­tive, which teaches in­car­cer­ated men to be­come bet­ter dads— it is clear that paid parental leave is just the be­gin­ning of the fight.

Still, Levs is an elo­quent and pas­sion­ate stan­dard-bearer. He con­cludes with per­sonal ap­peals for a bet­ter “all in” life, fo­cus­ing less on cor­po­rate or gov­ern­ment pol­icy and more on in­di­vid­ual health in body, mind and spirit. For dads on this Fa­ther’s Day, it’s a use­ful mes­sage to read. As­sum­ing you can spare time away from the kids.

“I was miss­ing mo­ments of my daugh­ters’ lives that I’d never get back. It is a loss I will never fully ac­cept.”

Pres­i­dent Obama

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