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” (HarperOne, $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 like me 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 washingtonpost.com/discussions. Levs will join me to take your questions.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or michelle.singletary@
washpost.com. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.