'Lean in' for dads says family time's not just for women

Josh Levs
Josh Levs and his daughter. "I look into my daughter’s beautiful new eyes and know where I need to be," he wrote, explaining why he's challenging his company's two-week paternity leave policy for biological fathers. Now he's writing a book about work-life balance for dads.Today

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By Paul Raeburn

When his first two children were born, Josh Levs, a CNN reporter, didn't fight company policy that granted 10 weeks of paid leave to mothers and to all parents who adopt, but only two weeks to biological fathers.

But when he was expecting his third child last fall, he’d had enough. “It’s unfair to my wife and family, and to other dads and families,” he wrote on his blog. He applied for 10 weeks of paid leave and was denied.

So he filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, charging that it was discriminating against biological dads.

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Now Levs is writing a book about the experience, one he describes as a male version of Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling 2013 book “Lean In.” Entitled “Stretch Out,” it will be published by HarperCollins in 2015, and Levs said he hopes it will change similar company policies across the country.

In her book and in a TED talk that went viral, Sandberg had tough advice for women who wanted to have a family and succeed at work: “Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the very day you need to leave to take a break for a child,” she said.

Sandberg’s message was nuanced; she recognized that women cannot remove all the obstacles facing them and suggested that they focus on the things they are able to change. But for many who read the book — or merely read about the book — the take-home message was: Work harder. Lean in. Don’t sacrifice your career for your family. You can have both.

Levs has a different view. As Sandberg is telling women to lean in, Levs wants to tell men to lean out — to pump the gas pedal for more time with their families. “This is about the other half of the population,” he said. Men might have an easier path at work, but they too often face obstacles when trying to spend time with their families, he told the assembled fathers last weekend at the Dad 2.0 summit, an annual conference of father-bloggers and activists meeting in New Orleans.

He called his book “Stretch Out,” he explained, because “we are all so stretched out in this frenetic life.” Men have to stretch out to demand changes in anachronistic, structured workplaces that interfere with family time. And the nation “has to stretch out in its understanding of men and women in order to improve these structures so we can all live better lives,” he said.

Levs has three children. The first was born with a congenital heart defect requiring surgery. The second was born unexpectedly at home; he called 911 and the dispatcher talked him through helping his wife through the rapid labor and delivery. And his third child was born prematurely in October. “We joke that we can’t have a birth in our family without drama,” he said.

Each time, he faced the dilemma of going back to work and hiring someone to help his wife, or staying home and forfeiting his income. “And we are a one-income family,” he said. He said he and other fathers at work had facetiously suggested that in order to get parental leave they “should adopt each other’s kids.”

Levs said he is optimistic that his paternity leave claim will be resolved in his favor. “Fatherhood today is completely unlike anything fatherhood has been before,” he said. “It’s much more emotional. It’s much more about connections. It’s much more about teaching values. A lot of those old suggestions about what it means to be a man are out the window.”