The Point Everyone’s Missing About Baseball’s Latest Headlines and Modern Fatherhood

Josh Levs
Josh Levs
Mar 22, 2016 · 5 min read

A player’s decision is part of a national movement that’s overturning gender stereotypes

Josh Levs with his baby daughter.

A major league baseball player’s controversial decision to walk away from a multi-million dollar contract has sparked a raging debate and hand-wringing from both sides.

Some say he took strong, brave action by leaving his team because his son could no longer join him in the clubhouse all the time. Others call his choice selfish, noting that virtually no business allows an employee’s kid to come to work regularly.

Lost in all this is what really matters about this story: what it says about modern fatherhood and the workplace. It’s time to talk about this. I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Dove Men+Care to do so.

This one player’s move is actually just a high-profile and high-stakes example of something happening all over the country.

These days, men are even more likely than women to make big changes in their careers for work-life balance, a study by EY found.

They’re more likely to give up jobs or even careers, and switch to new ones for better work-life balance. They’re more likely to turn down promotions as well. And men are more likely to move to another state or even to another country for more time with family.

Dozens of studies and real-life examples make this same point, as I describe in my book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together.

So a conflict like this was inevitable. Sports fans who love crunching numbers could have seen this coming — and maybe can even predict how many more “#FamilyFirst” decisions lie ahead for men in professional sports.

Unfortunately, few people know the truth about modern dads, in no small part because images in the media are still often based on outdated stereotypes of disinterested, lazy buffoons. As I report in All In, a study by Dove Men+Care found that only 7% of men surveyed around the world could relate to the way the media depicts masculinity.

The difference between stereotypical dads and actual ones is huge — particularly in how we prioritize work and family.

Across the country, millions of people believe that involved dads are the exception, not the rule. They don’t know, for example, that studies show the average working father spends three hours with his kids each workday, or that virtually all dads who live with their kids care for them in every major category (clothing, feeding, doing homework together) at least several days a week.

Instead, people still cling to the false, outdated notion of fathers prioritizing work, above all else, as real. Studies show that many CEOs believe dads are less involved at home, and that work-life conflict is a women’s concern. So as a result, corporate policies follow suit. They’re designed for women to have time at home after a birth, for example, but not men.

Men who take time off for family caregiving or seek flexibility are often stigmatized at work. In All In I report on men who have been demoted or even fired for being caregivers and breaking from an old “macho” norm. One is a lawyer who was a “rock star” at his firm before he took time off to care for his baby and mentally ill wife. When he returned, his firm no longer allowed him to handle his previous clients, gave him lesser tasks and fired him within months.

Our laws are also stuck in the past. The United States is the only developed nation without a paid maternity leave system. Some women face an impossible predicament: If they stay home with their newborns, they can’t put food on the table.

Of course the United States lacks paid maternity leave. Because the traditional thinking is straight out of Mad Men: She’s a woman. Who needs her money? Why would she need paid leave? The man should make all the money. Why would he need paternity leave at all?

To build stronger families and businesses, we need better laws like paid family leave, better policies, and an end to sexist stigmas. I have interviewed a lot of parents about what they believe it will take for this to happen. Many have said they believe step one is changing the outdated understandings of moms and dads.

This brings us back to professional sports. If a female athlete was allowed to have her child at all her games, and suddenly lost that, and made a choice to leave the team, would it have been so shocking? Would columnists accuse her of being a “spoiled brat” who “walked out” on her teammates?

Maybe. But it’s hard to imagine the same vitriol this baseball player is facing from some.

Whether anyone agrees with his decision or not is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that people shouldn’t be shocked or judgmental when it happens. It simply isn’t shocking to hear a modern dad say he cares more about time with his kid than having one more year of the MLB dream (and then acting like it).

So make no mistake: This is just the beginning. Soon it will be common for many dads in all professions, including sports, to show where they stand on prioritizing work and home. The question will be: can we all just accept it?

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