I knew I needed to talk with Josh Levs right away.
I had just listened to the CNN reporter give the keynote speech at my very first Dad 2.0 Summit about the changing perceptions of dads in the world, and he was interested in finding out directly from fathers what that meant to us. Having a good father and role model growing up, I wanted to share everything I could with him and share what it meant to me as a stay-at-home dad.
I made my appointment with him for the next day. I was flying home from New Orleans in the afternoon and figured that would give me plenty of time to make it. We talked for a good amount of time and when we were done, Josh asked me when my flight was. I looked at my watch, sort of panicked.
“In about an hour and a half” was my response.
“Chris, you’d better get in a taxi now!” he said, worried I wouldn’t make it home. I did, though it was close but I knew the value of sharing what I needed to say.
So does Josh Levs in his new book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses Alike – And How We Can Fix It Together, published May 12. I was fortunate to have a chance to return the favor by interviewing him about the book and what he discovered about the state of modern fatherhood.
Q. What experience has really opened you up to writing about the transition of the modern man from the 1950s version we are used to seeing to the versions of fatherhood now?
Josh Levs – I was covering fatherhood, and parenthood from a dad’s perspective, on air and online at CNN. As I explain in the book (All In), I saw all these changes happening, and when I began covering them I got tons of amazing feedback, including from other media. I realized that this story was largely untold. Then, the tables were turned. I faced a discriminatory policy that prevented me from being home with my daughter (my third child) after her birth. When I announced I was taking legal action, it was like I had unleashed the floodgates of love. So much support came in from women’s groups and men’s groups. I realized that those of us committed to equality — for our daughters and sons, for our wives and husbands, and for ourselves — are all n this together. I came to see how our laws, policies and stigmas are still based on that outdated 1950s vision of gender roles, and how out of touch those structures are with our real lives. Our workplace culture needs a wakeup call.
Q. You mentioned in “All In” the disconnect between the business world and family. Are you finding that most corporations value the bottom line more than relationships with their employees? Are there exceptions that see the light at the end of the tunnel?
JL – I’m an optimist. I believe most business leaders want to do the right thing by their businesses and employees. But they don’t know the facts. Better policies that respect workers as parents — of both genders — improve the bottom line. I explain this in detail in the book, and I really hope business leaders will take note. And yes, there are some businesses leading the way. More and more businesses are creating sensible policies (Johnson & Johnson is among the latest). In the book I highlight some big businesses that are thriving with better policies.
Q. Why is the balance between men and women so vital to the survival of our culture?
JL – I’d say it’s vital for our culture to thrive. As a nation, we profess to believe in equality, but our laws, policies, and stigmas prevent that happening in the workplace. We have so few women as CEOs and in the halls of power in government. And these policies that act as gender police are a big part of the reason — they’re pushing men out of caregiving roles and pushing women into them. As I show in the book, economies thrive with more gender equality. And that’s the world I want my daughter and sons to grow up in.
Q. Women have been fighting and continue to fight for equal pay for equal work. Some males in traditional roles will argue that men, especially white men, have no reason to fight or complain about inequality in the workplace when it comes to flexibility in their jobs. What would you say to those men?
JL – First, let me emphasize that very few men think that way. Today’s dads who live with our children are very involved in family life when they’re home. But they’re experiencing a lot of work-life conflict — even more so than women, according to one study. Many men who are fathers want more time at home with their families. Many women want to have more time to pursue their careers. So all those of us committed to equality stand together. And that includes on equal pay — men have as much at stake in that as women do, because men have every reason to want their wives to be able to make as much for the same work, so that the family has choices about how to structure their lives! Plus, it’s just obviously the right thing to do, and men want this for our daughters and sons.
Yes, there are people who say men should not speak out on these issues. And there are men who feel that when they do, they are told not to because they come from a place of privilege. But as numerous women — including actress Emma Watson at the U.N. — are pointing out, men must join these conversations. All In is designed to help that happen in a big way. We have the incredible legacy of the women’s rights movement to build on.
Q. What did you learn about stay at home dads when it came to asking questions about raising their children in an environment that often doesn’t see them as equal, competent parents?
JL – This is a place in which individuals all over the country can make a big difference in their communities. Every dad, including me, has stories of being the one dad on the playground, or at storytime, or singalong or some other such activity, with a group of moms who are wary of him and don’t talk to him. As Sheryl Sandberg says in the interview for my book, she always makes an effort to play with the dad. Men and women need to get past the false suggestions that dads are untrustworthy, or for that matter incompetent. This is also why there’s a section in All In that focuses on media and the portrayals of dads in fiction and news.
Q. Why is there such a gap when it comes to paid paternity leave? Does our society not put much value in a father’s impact on their children?
JL – It’s the same with the U.S. being the only nation with an advanced economy and no paid maternity leave. It’s all based on the same false assumptions; that women should stay home (so who needs their salary?) and men should bring home the bacon (so why do they need paternity leave?). It’s ridiculous and has to be rectified. This thinking is hurting our businesses, our entire economy, women, men, and most importantly, children.
Q. At the end of some of your chapters, you give clear steps for the reader to follow to achieve certain goals that they can apply to their own lives. Have you found that people want to make a difference and often don’t know how to make it happen?
JL – Yes! And I love that. People are always asking for concrete steps, so I have laid out very clear step-by-step lists in the book. Most people have never been told how these systems work or what rights, protections, and options they have. I’ve learned through experience. (Time Warner revolutionized its policy, making it much better for dads like me and for biological moms, as a result of my case.) People get frustrated with Washington for good reason. But here’s something big that we can make happen on a national level. We can get this done. (Hence the chapter title “Let’s Do This.”)
Q. What is so important about redefining our current world’s view on what makes someone masculine?
JL – False and outdated views about masculinity are at the core of these problems. If you have children, being a committed and involved father is the manliest thing you’ll ever do. Those who hold the power over our laws, policies, and stigmas need to understand that so we can all move forward. Some Neanderthals, as I write in the book, are trying desperately to hold onto the old ways. It’s important that we all reject that vociferously.
Q. We’ve begun to see a shift in the media away from the doofus dad. How important is it for brands to move away from that stereotype?
JL – Essential! Images of fathers are relevant to the public mindset. Those stereotypes affect cultural thinking. Some of the dads quoted in the book believe, by being active and involved, they’re the exceptions. Even they don’t realize that they’re the norm! The doofus dad imagery sends the message that men are less capable at home. It sends bad messages to boys and girls. Time to end it.
Q. What are some major ways we as men can be “all in” for our families?
JL – Being “all in” is about being empowered. It’s about taking steps to improve life for yourself and your family. There are things we can do in the workplace, in the public sphere, in our individual attitudes, and at home to make all that happen. Rather than give you all the specifics here, let me just say: It’s in the book!
A version of this first appeared on DadNCharge.