What Sheryl Sandberg Has Wrong About Dads

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

If I were a dude, the presumption that fathers don't take as active a parenting role as mothers, full stop, would anger me.

So I'm a teensy bit miffed.

I'm sitting here with my son, who at the moment is happily blowing up some stuff in Minecraft. My partner, who I affectionately refer to as the "Silver Fox," is outside freezing his butt off in order to enjoy an afternoon cigar. And for my part, I'm Facebooking. There's some good stuff online today: A friend at my company just had a "leaving do" in Europe (great pics), and I'm bummed that I'll no longer get to work with her. It appears my partner was posting political commentary this morning as well which, as usual, I scroll right on by. And finally, I notice that USA Today has posted a story featuring an interview with Sheryl Sandberg.

It's this last post that has me aggravated.

The piece is essentially about helping those working outside the home strike a balance between business and family, and about demanding that companies increase work-life flexibility. The article includes a good distribution of men and women in the conversation, even highlighting a dad, Doyin Richards, who has chosen to stay home to spend more time with his little ones. Richards has some spot-on reflections about the difficulties facing working parents, and especially fathers, in creating a flexible space in the corporate world. And quotes from Sandberg like "we need to make work, work for parents" are an absolute slam dunk. Right on.

But then I happened upon this comment from Sandberg:

"The most important thing for women is that they bear the bulk of the housework and parenting even with 70% in the workforce. Imagine if fathers were as active parents as mothers, then the demands of flexibility for our workplace would be increased."'

So here's my beef. Yes, right, okay, there are those families in which the mom does it all, even if it's a dual-income household. And I do understand the nugget of Sandberg's comment—if more parents demanded flexibility, more corporations would need to become more flexible. But it's the point regarding the split of responsibility that gets to me. Are dads really not that involved?

Friends, we are in 2015. There are scores and scores and scores of two-income families in which the parents—be they mom and dad, mom and mom, or dad and dad—work it out deliberately, thoughtfully, and yes, equally. If I were a dude, the presumption that fathers don't take as active a parenting role as mothers, full stop, would anger me.

It would anger the Silver Fox, for sure. He's a stay-at-home dad, as was my father for several years. In my house, my male partner is the Leader of the Laundry, the Maker of Beds, and the Taker of the Dog to the Vet. It's he who arranges play dates with the kids in town; he who buys bread, apple juice, and my specific brand and configuration of tampon at the grocery store; and he who hangs up the phone during that silent period when the robo-callers call. I would be embarrassed to profess to anyone that I cover anywhere near 70% of the parenting load in my house.

Yes, you're right—he doesn't work outside the home typically. Very true. However, he does travel and take the occasional consulting gig. And when that happens, I get flexible. And he makes sure to stay flexible around my areas of inflexibility. And somehow, it all works out.

That said, I do imagine that Sandberg's comment points more to families in which both parents are externally employed 40 hours a week. Fair enough. But still. When you think about it, we are in a place in our culture where "because I can't do that" is no longer an appropriate rationale for women in many cases. We can't be in the boardroom? Bull. We can't wear a bikini after 40? Bull. We can't collaborate with our spouses to equally share the parenting load? Bullshit.

Now, let's be reasonable, there are certain things like breastfeeding that can't necessarily be shared (and if it can, I would totally pay to see that). But don't you think dads want to be as involved as moms? Have we given them the opportunity to do that? Have we engaged them? And if our corporate culture is not enabling that equality, isn't it our responsibility to act together to change that?

From paternity leave to working from home on a snow day, we need to take role/gender completely out of this discussion. A parent is a parent, period.

Speaking of periods, a shout out to the Silver Fox on this one. In no universe can I imagine a dude enjoying a trip down the tampon aisle—especially a former soldier of 68 years of age.

Hats off to you, Colonel—and to all men like you.

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