Letting Lean In Be: Fathering A Way For Our Daughters

If I was a woman, and I’m not, I’m just a man with an imagination, and men started adopting a phrase created to empower women (Lean In) to discuss how they lean in to fatherhood or work or other manly things, I’d be angry. I’d find another angry woman and we’d say things like “Do you believe this mother$@#$%&* bull$#@&?!? We can’t have one tiny little buzz phrase for THREE MONTHS before they LEAN IN and start leaning in too? Well, of course, because if women lean in and try to exclude men from leaning in, that would be ‘reverse sexism’. Poor men. Poor, poor, poor men. They deserve to lean it TOO!” And then we’d laugh and laugh and shake our heads because shaking our heads when we laugh means it’s not really funny.

Oh, men, please step off. Can’t you just maybe not Lean In?

UNLESS (and it’s still questionable and weird and I feel goofy proceeding), your attempts to lean in align themselves with the initial motives that inspired Sheryl Sandberg to coin the pop feminist phrase in the first place. Mainly, to encourage women to set their sights toward, to lean in and start demanding, parity in the workplace. So it seems to me that the only relevant angle from which men can genuinely wonder how to lean is how our leaning in can potentially participate in helping women get theirs.

So at work then, easy, lean the hell out.

If women, in 2013, still feel the need (and the need is there) to write books about leaning in to achieve equality in the workplace, why then, men, do we continue to perpetuate the hostile environment where women leaning in requires aggression and elbowing? Couldn’t we perhaps simply lean out and just LET THEM IN? If you, men, have a job where you’re making more money than a woman performing the same job, why not lean out and either take a pay cut or lobby for her raise? Further, and this is where things get REALLY interesting, men, if you hold a job where you oversee a woman and you know (and you do, in the tumult of your defensive mind, KNOW) she is, not only able to execute your job on a par with your abilities, but able to perform them in a way that would benefit the organization in a more substantial way, do you lean out and lobby for her promotion? Ridiculous, right? Then let’s try this: Imagine a different man is the incompetent superior and the able woman is your daughter. Now what?

Fatherhood mucked it up, didn’t it? It gets worse, boys.

If a man wants to lean in, in the context described above as opposed to merely executing a new version of gittin-r-dun, then he needs to lean in AT HOME in a way that clears a path for his spouse, or co-parent, to commit to and focus on the development of her career. This means wiping the slate clean in terms of traditional gender roles as they apply to parenting (this is what the mommy does and this is what the daddy does) and simply doing half, or more, of all that must be done. This means, men, that you’re changing diapers, you’re feeding the baby, you’re rocking the baby to sleep, you’re getting out of bed when the baby cries, you’re goofing with the kids, teaching them things, reading them books, coloring with them, and listening to hours and hours of mind numbing jibber jabber as the child erupts into language and talks and talks and talks simply because they can. This sounds cute and precious. It is not. And then, fellas, grab a broom. These are merely basic issues of time and work. If your wife is going to lean in to her career, then you need to lean in to the maintenance of the home. And this is definitely not the place to complain about your career. Go to work, just like she does, and then dust the living room, just like she does. Vacuum, mop, cook, wash the dishes, take the kids to their after school activities, and get on the phone to make appointments with the doctor and the orthodontist. That’s how you clear the way for women to claim leadership positions in government and industry. You provide her with the time to make it happen and you smile while you do it. Only then will you BEGIN to lean in.

And then, Good God guys, PLEASE (seriously, PLEASE), stop breaking your arms by patting yourselves on the back for “Revolutionizing Fatherhood” or “Changing The Face Of The Dadscape” or whatever it is you write about on all your self aggrandizing daddy blogs. And I’m sorry ladies, but maybe you could tone it down a little regarding how sexy it is to see a man be a good father to his children. It’s not sexy. It’s not laudable. It’s the goddamn LEAST we can do. To frame it in Chris Rockian terms: MEN ARE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR KIDS. MEN ARE SUPPOSED TO HELP DO THE LAUNDRY. MEN ARE SUPPOSED TO SUPPORT THE EQUALITY OF WOMEN. So let’s stop applauding them for what should’ve been the new normal decades and decades ago.

To reiterate, the practical aspects of men leaning in is the easy part, or it should be. The actual revolutionary task of becoming a Good Dad who leans way in remains in the more subtle, and difficult for women and men alike, transition of having men carry more and more of the emotional load of parenting. What I mean by “carrying the emotional load” is that, in terms of the child and the maintenance of their sense of stability and well being, the mother needs to relinquish some of that responsibility and the father needs to accept more of it. Put simply, there needs to be a shift in the way and intensity that kids need their daddies. This amounts to nothing less than the deconstruction of the unquestioned super special bond that exists “only” between mommy and baby – no doubt a cultural construct like all “absolutes” – while daddy leans in to partake in this bond. If an honest sharing of the emotional load never comes to pass, a woman will never get away from her child when she’s away from her child. This may be the painful shadow side of the equality she seeks, but it may also prove a blessing.

But men, my brothers, my how we need an overhauling in this department. It’s as if, as a species, we need to focus on making great strides in the development of emotional intelligence. We must ask ourselves without flinching why, when our children are hurt or scared or when they simply need some loving and cuddling – why do they so often seek their moms? To merely shrug our shoulders and write it off as a deep and mysterious biological connection to which we have no access is evasive and lazy. In this area, we must confess that women are plugged into something about which we know but a little. So what better place to learn than from the women themselves? Watch them. Observe with care the way they are with our children. Here, we arrive at the most fundamental way a man can genuinely lean in. To lean in to fatherhood, study motherhood. Study women. Imagine being a mom and then act like one.

When this movement occurs, we abandon the cold abstraction of the essay to find ourselves at the beach as the sun sets and we enter the province of the moon. The kids howl like animals, little lunatics; wild, they refuse returning to the tame cage of home. They splash with abandon, throw sand, and don’t go gentle. We consider, from our responsible adult worlds, all the things that must be done. But the thoughts come and go like waves. Like water, we flow from our perspectives to the kids’. What must be done can wait. For now we are strangely able to go with the flow, to lose the distinction between the kids’ joy and our own. There’s no hurry to get home. For it’s only now, for this moment only, that the moonlight will shimmer on the water in just this way. My God it looks like diamonds and fireflies. It’s so pretty we could almost maybe write a poem. And the water, the waves, the swish swish swishing sounds like whispering. Do you hear it? The message of the water? No? Well then listen. Come closer. Lean in, lean in, lean in…


We’re celebrating Father’s Day by celebrating leaning into fatherhood and by recognizing the extraordinary men that are our own fathers. We hope that it will inspire you to thank your own dad or the dad who most inspires you. Find more letters and stories about leaning into parenthood here. And, of course, find your own Lean In inspiration at LeanIn.org.

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Article Posted 5 years Ago

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