I was having a discussion this week with two ladies at figure skating. They said they loved seeing me play with my kids that aren’t on the ice. For the first hour of figure skating, I have one kid on the ice, so I get to play with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old.
For the second hour, I have one working out, and my 3-year-old gets on the ice.
I spend lots of that time walking around with the kids and tossing them in the air. Based on the experience of many of the women there, I’m a crazy involved dad.
Specifically one of the ladies talked about her dad. She’s probably getting close to 50, so this is a few years ago. She said that when dad came back from work it was the old cigar and whisky with the newspaper and you left dad alone. She can’t remember her dad playing with her ever.
This is the idea that dads are fighting, and in his book All In, Josh Levs is working hard to call out the parts of US society that enforce a less than an involved position on dads.
We’ve made lots of progress1 when it comes to making it socially acceptable for women to have careers, and much less on making it okay for men to be the stay at home parent.
Millions of stay-at-home moms want to get back to work and advance their careers. Millions of working dads want more time at home to raise their kids. But society doesn’t allow it.
Even talking to a friend at church about parental leave2 which is pretty stellar in Canada, he lamented the position of a former boss who was angry when he took a week off work for the birth of one of his children. Then in the next breath, he expressed the thought that men shouldn’t take more than a week off because they should be working.
Men face derision, demotions, and even loss of their jobs when they make family a priority. Women, meanwhile often face the opposite pressure. They’re punished for working full-time by bosses or coworkers who think they should be home more.
Needless to say, I was surprised. In our church, I know many families split the parental leave 50/50 through a number of children. He knows these families as well.
We talk a good game about family values in this country, but our laws, policies, and stigmas prove that we don’t adequately value families.
Changing these stigmas is the goal of Levs in this book. He wants gender/sexual equality to go both ways. Women should be able to work, and men should be able to stay at home. According to Levs, men even want to stay home. He cites a study that said about half of working dads would stay home if their spouse made enough money.
I know that if my wife was the lead income in the house, I’d happily assume the stay at home dad role. My wife and I have talked about it many times and try to get me more parenting time as often as possible3.
This sexism damages America. It tells people in power that their presumptions about gender roles are right. But it also does something even more insidious: it drives a wedge between men and women. It creates a false gender war, pitting us against each other. The stereotype sends the message that things would be better if only men would take responsibility at home instead of being so lazy and indifferent. It angers men who feel insulated and discounted.
All In is broken up into six parts covering some broad ideas where gender stereotypes are harming men in their role as a parent.
Part 1: The Parental Leave Battle
This part felt the oddest for me give the great laws in Canada around parental leave. In Canada a mother, biological or adoptive) has 50 weeks of paid maternity leave financed through our Employment Insurance program. Of those 50 weeks, 35 are parental leave. Parental leave can be taken by either parent in any split they decide to take.
Going past the leave questions, which the lack of leave is what inspired Levs to dig into what it means to be a dad today, Levs talks about the lack of close family support that most families had in the past.
The days when most couples had grandparents nearby helping are no more. Young couples move away more often, and older Americans are putting off retirement longer, either because they want to or have to.
This is our scenario for sure. My mother-in-law did come for about a month with the birth of our first two children. She wanted to for our third but had a bunch of travel planned already. Day to day, if the kids are sick or we need a break, there is no close family that takes our kids for us.
We do have one family member in town, and they are up for helping out if there is not another option4. But it’s not like when my wife grew up and had ten different family members in town. She spent after school time at someone’s house a few days a week while her parents worked.
This lack of family support, and by extension community connections, is an interesting topic on its own that I’d love to explore. Levs covers it in brief, but there is so much more to discuss around kids, our community connections, and how we can build a caring community around ourselves.
Much of section one talks about the stigmas surrounding a many staying home to be with his kids.
It boils down to simple, basic lack of equity. If policies keep pushing women to stay home and pushing men to rush back to work, how will women keep working up the ranks?
Not just when they’re born, but when they’re sick or there is a field trip. In so many jobs this is viewed as “mom’s job”, and something dad shouldn’t be doing.
The way much of corporate America sees it, a guy who gives up wild adventures and late nights of beer chugging to stay home and care for his children is trading manliness for femininity.
By doing these things with our kids, many men are viewed as not invested in their career. They’re subtly shifted to different roles with less responsibility. Their climb up the corporate ladder is halted or reversed.
They’re considered lesser men for being involved with kids.
For fathers, manliness means living up to the responsibilities you have to your family.
Those are all lies and should be considered as such in society. Men have a crucial role to play in their kid’s lives. They should be doing it and we should be prodding men to be involved as they are able to.
Part II: Beyond Leave – fixing the struggle between work and life
The second section looks past parental leave and at the structure of your work. It acknowledges that parents don’t work 80 hour weeks and may get punished for it.
Most people who say they work 80 hour weeks, don’t do it. They merely appear to do it and then get credit for it from their boss.
I believe that if you’re working more than 8 hour days, your business is broken. The job you work at is broken. There is no reason that you can’t get your work done well in 8 hours. In fact, with great planning, there is no reason you can’t do your work in 6 hours most of the time.
If you can be focused like that, then you can have a flexible job and get to field trips. Companies are going to have to recognize that parents value job flexibility and will need to start being okay with that if they want talented people.
Half of working parents have turned down a job that they felt would conflict with family obligations. The vast majority of workers want their companies to offer flexibility, and nearly six in ten working parents believe they’d do their jobs better if they were allowed a flexible schedule.
One thing I diverge from Levs on is that people shouldn’t have to work 100 hours to provide for a family.
But no one can argue legitimately that a U.S. citizen should have to work a hundred hours a week to get by barely.
I agree with the plain statement, but I disagree as he cites waitress jobs, coffee shop jobs, or other lower wage jobs as places where someone shouldn’t have to work 100 hours a week to make ends meet.
From an economic perspective, the question is how much value do these jobs provide? You always get paid for the value you provide, and while those jobs are fine, I don’t believe they provide the value commensurate with not needing to work 100 hours to make ends meet.
When I’m coaching people looking to get out of those jobs, we always find something they can do that has more value. After many chats with one of the local people that works at Starbucks, we got her personal training which doubled her wage. She was now selling a better future self to people.
That has more value than serving coffee and thus gets more money as a recognition of that value.
Now, I’m not advising that we should cut minimum wage, but I think that a blanket statement that no one should have to work 100 hours a week neglects to take into account the value that a job provides. Everyone has something of value to contribute; they need to spend the time to find it.
Part III: Fixing Pop Culture
Pop culture portrayal of dad is terrible. I’ve been the victim of it when we had our first child. One of the ladies at our church was talking to my wife and I. My wife mentioned that she was gone for the weekend for work and the lady turned to me and asked if I’d survive a weekend with the kids and if we had someone coming to check in on us.
I was already the primary caregiver since my wife’s commute meant she was gone for a good chunk of the day and I could pick our daughter up at daycare and spend a few hours with her before my wife came home.
But the assumption was that a child surviving with dad was only done by luck.
Unilever also released a survey of men in the U.S., UK, Germany, Brazil, and China. It found that 86 percent of men say masculinity has changed from their father’s generation, but only 7 percent of men say they can relate to the way the media depicts masculinity.
Men see these terrible portrayals of dad on TV and cringe. I do hair, nails, have dance parties and know much more about fairies than I did before I had three girls.
It’s far worse than the image of the hapless buffoon. It damages families, skews the minds of young children, isolates fathers raising kids alone, and even prevents some kids from having male role models at all. It’s the idea that men are dangerous and only women should be trusted.
Kids are often taught that they find a “women with kids” if there is trouble at a park. In the worst cases, they’re taught to avoid all men even if they have a gaggle of kids around.
Men are portrayed as a risk, and this harms kids. As Levs says when he ends the section:
For women to “lean in” more at work, men need to be welcomed into the world of stay-at-home parenthood.
Part IV: Fatherlessness
Not having your father around is bad for you. Not having dad involved harms children5.
Kids without dads are more likely to live in poverty, struggle with behavioral problems, commit crimes, turn to drugs, become parents at a young age, and do all sorts of other things we don’t want our kids to do.
Parents need to recognize this. It’s crucial for both parents to ensure that dad gets time with the kids. Even if dad works outside of the house and simply can’t be around lots, he should be involved as often as possible.
Being a dad is not being a babysitter, and not extraneous. You are uniquely qualified for that job.
If you’re not living with your kids, make a point of being with them as often as possible. You can teach them crucial things in a unique way.
Part V: Sex
This seemed like the least researched section. I’m not even sure why Levs included it and read it twice to see if I missed it.
The whole thing can be summed up in one quote.
American parents are having less sex than they used to. Sexlessness among parents has doubled.
There is a chapter on scheduling sex, but there are much better resources around sex like One Extraordinary Marriage.
One thing that would have made the chapter more useful is how the easier availability of pornography affects sex. You no longer have to head out to a space where someone may see you and purchase a magazine. You open up your tablet, and there are any number of websites you can visit.
Has this easy availability corresponded to less sex? I’m sure there are other avenues to dig into, but this is one that came to mind for me.
Part VI: The All-In Life
The final section acknowledges the mental health issues with being dad. I know that we get regularly asked how we’re making sure mom gets a break. The view seems to be that because I work and don’t interact with the kids for portions of the day I get a break and so making sure I get time to myself away from the kids isn’t as crucial.
“He not only came home, giving me a break and help,” Michelle said, “but he was shouldering the burden of a lot of the issues I was having as well. And because I didn’t have that network of moms in the beginning and I had Josh, I put everything on him.”
I’ve also seen the lack of community connection putting a similar burden on me, and so I continually encourage my wife to make these community connections with other moms. She needs someone to talk to about kids that isn’t me.
Finally, men have less support when parental struggle comes along, due to the manliness stigma. Men just aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings.
We need to change this men. We have struggles with our wives and our kids. We have times where we feel like failures.
We need support to get through these things. My friend Cory Miller has been a great leader in the talk about mental health and our need to search out support. You can’t, and shouldn’t go it alone.
Recommendation for All In by Josh Levs
While I don’t connect as much with some of Levs ideas around working wages and I don’t have the same experience with parental leave, I think this book is an excellent read for any father that wants to get a fire under their butt about being a good dad.
You should read this.
- And we still have lots of things to change. ↩
- In Canada, a mother is entitled to 50 weeks of paid parental leave financed through our Employment Insurance system. A father is entitled to 35 weeks. Really the 35 weeks is built in to the 50 weeks and either parent can take any part of the 35 weeks split however they wish. ↩
- And I work at home so I see my kids for parts of most days. I make lunch and change diapers and drop off at school and built towers at some point in the middle of days most weeks. ↩
- To be clear, they love the kids and happily take them. We mostly try not to take advantage of it. ↩
- Acknowledging that either parent can be physically unsafe for the kids and in that case is better to not be in contact with the kids until they can be safe for their kids. ↩