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Why Men Can't Have It All

Photograph by Getty Images

“So what will you do?”

It was a question I was asked often during my first pregnancy. Would I go back to work? Full-time? Part-time? Would I find a new job? Would I stay home with my baby for the first year or two? Maybe more? Would I work from home?

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The choice was mine to make—how I would achieve my version of “having it all.” Entering the world of motherhood gave me the freedom to pick a new path, while everyone around me rooted from the sidelines.

Fatherhood, on the other hand, did not come with such liberation.

My husband was never once asked, “What will you do?” because everyone assumed they knew the answer. He would work, perhaps take on extra shifts or longer hours. He would sacrifice. He would have less time for himself, less time for his family. He would do what needed to be done.

There was no talk of choices or balance, no talk of fulfillment or joy. There was certainly no talk of “having it all.” That realm of options is reserved for mothers.

Men are completely left out of the conversation when we talk about “having it all.” A career is expected, and flexibility is out of the question, even when children become part of the equation. Paternity leave is a foreign concept. Crossing the gender divide to become a stay-at-home dad is practically unheard of.

I see men who wish they had the chance to experience fatherhood more fully and a society that robs them of that dream.

While motherhood becomes a defining trait for a woman, fatherhood is a mere afterthought when defining men. Even as an increasing number of dads immerse themselves fully in the duties of parenthood—changing their fair share of diapers, waking for late-night feedings, dressing flailing infant limbs—society still seems to cling to the notion that dads are the “lesser” parent.

In a recent Pew Research Study, 76 percent of participants believed children were just as well off if their father worked compared to a mere 8 percent who said children were better off with stay-at-home dads. Regardless of the obvious shift in dads becoming more involved parents and partners, our societal opinion of dads is still entrenched in old gender stereotypes that men are less nurturing and capable parents.

In my experience, however, the careless and incompetent dad is more myth than reality. Most often I see men who crave to be around their children, and who are full of love, nurturing and affection. I see men who wish they had the chance to experience fatherhood more fully and a society that robs them of that dream.

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I think it’s time we shift the conversation of “having it all” to include men, as fathers and husbands and individuals. If we really want it all, not just for ourselves but for our families, we need a society that values men as parents, too. We need to fight for dads to have the opportunities we have, as well as the opportunities we’re still striving for.

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