THIS: “Being a committed father is the manliest thing you will ever do.”
Josh Levs is a CNN journalist, a father of three, and the author of “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses--And How We Can Fix It Together." In the book, Levs, who lobbied his company for paid paternity leave, details his ongoing legal case against Time Warner. He is credited with helping to kickstart the company's 2015 decision to unveil a more generous leave policy for mothers and fathers. In recent years, Levs has become a prominent advocate for fathers and families.
Motherly: Who is the modern father, and what does he want?
Josh Levs: Working or not, staying at home or not, having flexible schedule or not, what you find is that dads throughout this country are very involved in their kids' lives. They arevery connected. We put emotional relationships with our family way ahead of money.
Fathers consider teaching values to our kids one of the most important things, more than money, and America expects us to teach values to our kids even more than it expects us to be bringing in money. We all know that we are all in this together, because whether men had these awesome dads growing up or no dads at all, whatever it is, you find that all of them, and I talked to dads across every possible spectrum, they all recognize that we are part of a new era in which we get to carve out a new meaning for what it is to be a father.
We get to be the ones to demonstrate that if you have children, being a committed father is the manliest thing you will ever do. We get to build relationships with our kids that previous generations didn't necessarily get to. We [fathers] are the recipients of decades of work by women, in the fight for equality.
So this is us. I think of it as being the “Free to Be You and Me" generation. The girls I knew growing up were every bit as smart, every bit as capable, every bit as driven, also went to great colleges. Because I was a kid, it never occurred to me that they would have a harder time making it in their careers. Then, we got into the workplace. We got jobs, we had kids, and we discovered that the American workplace never grow up. So while we were growing up on “Free to Be You and Me", the American workplace was stuck in the “Mad Men" era.
We are the generation now that's facing this task of having to conquer these backwards policies. That's ours to deal with, and I can say, to have a daughter and two sons, I look at them and I know that if we don't fix this, they will not have equal opportunity in their lives. It's up to us, our generation, men and women together. That's what 'all in' means. That's what it's about.
Motherly: In the book, you address the fact that as a society, we talk a lot about how gender norms and traditional roles impact women, but often ignore how they impact men. So, you look at the impact of sexism on men and the pressures that they face. Can you describe that a little bit for me?
Josh Levs: Our backwards structures, our laws, policies and stigmas act as 'gender police,' and they empower people who act as gender police.
For example, stigmas are incredibly powerful: Men are giving up effectively billions of dollars by not taking even the paid paternity leave they're offered, although only 14 percent of companies offer paid paternity leave. It's also proven in many cases, when a man takes time off, when he gets back to work, he sometimes gets demoted, or even fired, for daring to break with their macho culture.
What people need to understand is, yes, it's awful for men, but this prejudice is not discrimination against men. This is discrimination against men and women. As long as you have policies, laws and stigmas that push men to stay at work and push women to stay home, you're being unfair to both.
I was talking about the girls I grew up with. Why is it that now, I'm 43 years old, and only 4.6 percent of the CEOs in the S&P 500 are women? That's crazy. That makes no sense. That is completely anathema to everything I learned growing up. The reason is that we still have these expectations, this gender norm way of thinking in the American workplace, and that's pushing everything backwards, so that's what we have to rise up against. Yes, I think it helps everyone to recognize that men are struggling with this, and men are suffering from work-life conflict as much as or even more than women.
There's this vicious cycle, with the people who are in power in corporations. They are the minority of men in America who do not prioritize their families, and that's proven. They even say that they don't. And so they then reward other men who are like them, and so the very few men who do not prioritize their families, don't spend time with their families, they work their way up the ranks, [and ultimately] they preserve the culture and the policies. Even those who have no ill intent still are just out of touch with what life is like for most families. So it's a vicious cycle that we just need to break.
Motherly: The book concludes with talking about mental health and spiritual health in a way that I thought really showed how deeply and profoundly these issues affect men's thriving or struggle on a daily basis. Is it taboo to talk about men struggling in work and life?
Josh Levs: These struggles that we have, these backwards laws policies and stigmas, they are responsible for so much of the work-life conflict that we have because they prevent work-life integration.
It's just basic logic: If you think the man should work all day, the woman should stay home all day, then of course you won't have any structures to make work-life integration possible for anyone.
These backward structures are responsible for so much of our work-life conflict, and those contribute tremendously to problems. I wanted to see, how is all this affecting us? This is why I looked at our physical health, mental health, spiritual health, and our sex drive, and got all this new information that no one had seen before to say that we need to talk about this. I hope that a wake-up call. I hope that people see, wow, these structures are really doing a job on us, on businesses and the economy, they're doing a job on kids. They're often doing a job on us and our lives.
Parenting doesn't have to be this frenetic. It doesn't have to be this runaround crazy. We can fix these structures, and in doing so, do better by businesses, by us, and most importantly, for our children. So yes, it needs to not be taboo to talk about mental health. Men need to be able to talk about it. I talk about when I experienced anxiety. The more that we can talk about this, the more the taboo goes away, and the more we can focus on solutions. That's what I'm all about, how we solve this.
Motherly: What does 'all in 'mean, when you use that term?
Josh Levs: Being 'all in' means first being all in as a parent, and truly committed, truly prioritizing family, and it means being part of the vast majority of parents in this country, both men and women, who want to improve our structures, to build a better society. What I find is that as I travel around, you see this. People across the political spectrum, and across the socio-economic spectrum want this. The overwhelming majority of the country wants to do this, because our current model is not sustainable, not healthy and it's bad for our children as long as boys don't have the choice to become men who get to have time with their kids, and girls don't have the choice to pursue their careers.
All of us who truly want equality for our daughters and our sons, and for our wives and our husbands and for ourselves, we are all in this together. That's what I learned when my legal case became an issue. That's when I realized that all of us who truly want equality, we are up against this system together.
Motherly: What would our ideal future could look in terms of work-life integration, particularly when we talk about flexibility, and work-life integration? From the growth of remote work to the explosion of technology in our daily lives, what is possible for us?
Josh Levs: The problem has been, and still is, that in a great many cases, people are rewarded for literally sitting in a seat, and not getting work done. There's this 'hours' stigma, in which men have to just be there more and more and more hours, and then say, 'oh, I worked so many hours.' That's just really bad for business, and it's bad for our men and their families.
An ideal future, when you talk about that, is built around work-life integration, and here's how that plays out. Most businesses, not all, if you're a doctor or in a hospital, you have to be in a certain place for a certain time, but a great many businesses need their workers to get their work done. They don't need their workers to be sitting at a desk for that much of a day. They don't need their workers sitting in a commute for an hour each way of their lives. The more we build in technology, like just even simple Skype technology, in which you can see the person any time, because they're near their computer.
You can still see how much that's being done. Business that start to get built around achievement, instead of where you're sitting at any given moment, those businesses do better. The more businesses catch onto that, the better off we are,
Motherly: Why these issues are important for children?
Josh Levs: We're talking about a basic human need. In our society, we have public education, because we understand that educating our children is good for society. We have Medicaid available for children, because we understand that making sure that children are healthy is good for society. Making sure that when a baby leaves the womb, it has a parent at home with it for a bunch of weeks, and that that parent does not have to worry about how to put food on the table during those weeks, that is an absolute human basic need.
This is not left or right, Democrat or Republican. In fact, I have surveyed, and the majority of Republicans now support a paid family leave insurance program, when they find out how it works. These are human basics. It's best for a society, and you don't want a society that neglects children, that's where every one leads to all sorts of bad things. Kids who don't have time with their parents, who aren't able to be raised by their own parents, more often struggle with all sorts of things.
Then there's this whole question of: What are we teaching our children? What are we showing our children? Are we only talking about family values? We talk a good game about family values in this society, but when it comes to our laws, policies and stigmas, it's clear that we do not adequately value families.
Also, are we teaching our kids equality? Are we? We talk about equality, and we say you can achieve anything, you can achieve anything. But when we stop and look at how far behind we are as a country, I know that as the dad of a daughter, a tiny baby, and two young boys, I don't want them to have these struggles when they grow up.
There are men in the book who talk about how hard it is for them, because they want more time at home, and they can't get it. There are so many women who want to restart their careers, but they didn't have the choice, because their husbands or partners couldn't get the flexibility to make two parent breadwinners possible.
Motherly: Our readers are largely mothers, many of them wives and partners. What can those women do to help men be more empowered in family life?
Josh Levs: The first thing to do is to be very welcoming to men in situations that are supposed to be open to all parents, but are almost all women. I have parts in the book in which men talk about how they were on the playground, and there were all these moms with kids, and they were the one dad, and the moms wouldn't talk to them, because there's this suspicion, like, “oh no, a man. What's a man doing here?" That dissuades men from going to those places, and it makes it harder for men to be caregivers. It makes men less effective caregivers.
The mommy and me classes, when there aren't daddy and me classes, make sure that those are 'parent and kid' classes, and that you are actually welcoming to the dad. Sheryl Sandberg says that when she's at the playground, “I always talk to the dad. I always play with the dad, you have to." This unconscious fear of men is something that we all need to get over. If you're at a playground and there's a strange man there, everyone should be concerned. A strange person who's not with a kid, you should be concerned. But when a man is there with his kids, he's just as trustworthy as a woman who's there with her kids.
There's also a basic understanding that the more of us, men and women, who join in these efforts and who take the steps that I lay out, like here's how to get paid family leave programs, here's how to get it in your state, here's how to work nationally, here's how to get flex time. The more that men and women work together and understand that we are all in this together, the farther we will get.
Something women can do is make sure that those forces don't try to trick us into the gender war, you know? There are people invested in the old ways, who want things to remain like “Mad Men.".They'll say things like, whoa, who are those men to come along and say that anything should change? Or “they're privileged men, why listen to them?"
It's about being really open-minded and realizing that men are getting squeezed as well, men are getting hurt as well, and all people, men and women, who want equality for our daughters and sons, are in this together, so we all have to push against the forces that would suggest a gender war, and realize that we are stronger when we stand together against these forces, and that together, we can tackle them.