By Hilary Levey Friedman
By now you’ve almost certainly heard of Lean In. Josh Levs is hoping you will see similarities between his recently released All In and Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller.
The similarities go beyond the titles. Both books deal with changing the challenging culture for working parents. While All In and Lean In emphasize that work/family balance is an issue for both sexes, the former concentrates on men and the latter on women.
Levs writes from experience as a devoted father of three who also covers family and fatherhood for CNN. In 2013, around the birth of his third child, he asked CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, about his benefits. Specifically Levs wanted to take the ten paid weeks new parents have as an option. But he discovered that those ten weeks apply to biological mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptive fathers—but apparently not to biological fathers. After speaking with Human Resources, and even the CEO, Benefits ultimately denied his appeal of this policy. Levs consulted lawyers and took his fight public, using his own personal media bully pulpit to get the word out. While in the end he went back to work without the ten paid weeks, Levs came to be seen, and see himself, as a leader in the active fathers’ movement of the 21st century.
All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together is the culmination of his research, reporting, and ruminations on this issue. Levs brings together and discusses the most up-to-date research on fatherhood while also proposing practical and policy solutions. In the Introduction he makes it clear that this isn’t “just” a problem for fathers or mothers: “Overall parents in the United States are working hard and doing their best. It’s the era of all-in parenting. And, by and large, neither gender is letting the other down.” Levs believes that poor family leave policies discriminate against both men and women by taking choices away.
All In isn’t only about paid family leave, but it is a big part of the book, and its strongest. In Part I he discusses the legal components of the Family and Medical Leave Act, business implications, and tax policy. For instance, from this I learned that many employers use disability insurance to pay birth moms. While Levs started this project seeking support for paternity leave he didn’t have strong feelings about paid family leave, but after everything he has learned he now believes that paid family-leave law would make a significant difference.
Another strength of All In is its focus on popular culture. Unlike others who write on this issue Levs devotes a whole section of his book to “Fixing Pop Culture,” explaining, “Any time I’ve interviewed fathers over the years, frustration about portrayals of dads in pop culture has gotten them fired up above all else.” The discussion here focuses on advertising snafus by companies like Huggies, the TV show Friday Night Lights, and mom’s-only groups.
Levs also tries to move beyond the upper-middle and middle class parenting experience (incidentally one of the criticisms of Sandberg’s Lean In is the focus on affluent families) to include a variety of families and family structures. He writes about fathers in prison, military dads, widowers, and he strives to include stories of poor fathers and black fathers as well. While his aim is admirable, at times these sections of the book strike a false note, especially in contrast to other portions where Levs is writing more from personal experience so his voice is stronger and more authoritative.
All In is definitely a book with a specific message and every page is meant to remind us of that message—that millions of (working) dads want to spend more time with their kids but in some way society is boxing them in. Levs sometimes present alternative viewpoints or explanations but it’s clear by the length of those sections that they are not the main focus. All In will most definitely appeal to those sympathetic to its argument, but I’m unfortunately not convinced it will change others’ minds (and I say unfortunately because my own husband is an involved father and I know how much that means to our household).
Levs’ goal is to start a movement much like Sheryl Sandberg. While the impact of All In may not be as deep, the book will give you something to think about and some facts to share with others whether you are all in or just leaning in to working parenthood.
Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She teaches in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.