By Zach Itzkovitz
Atlanta journalist Josh Levs’ personal battle for paternal equality has led to this month’s release of his book on work-life balance for fathers, “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together.”
Levs is a columnist and occasional on-air correspondent at CNN. He has received six Peabody Awards and two Edward R. Murrow Awards and been named the Atlanta Press Club’s Journalist of the Year. With his journalist wife, Melanie, Levs has three children.
The third of those children set him on a collision course with his employer.
In August 2013, Levs requested additional paid leave from Time Warner, CNN’s parent, knowing he would need more time at home after the birth of his daughter. At the time, the company offered 10 weeks of paid leave to all parents of new children except biological fathers.
When the company refused his request, Levs filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Time Warner, demanding a change to its policy. After a year of his pleas, CNN amended its leave policy to allow six weeks of paid leave to any parent.
“All In,” which had a launch party May 13 in Atlanta, expresses Levs’ frustration with the parental leave policy of American businesses and the federal government.
“These policies are so backward,” Levs said. “They are a big part of the reason that we have this work/life conflict, and that affects our minds. It affects our mental health.”
He discussed the shift in gender roles over the last half-century.
“What I’m doing is just like what a lot of dads are doing,” Levs said. “We are able to be emotionally connected to our kids and put values first and put time with them ahead of money and ahead of competing at work. The challenge is for everyone to understand that this is how fatherhood has changed; this is how manhood has changed.”
“All In” is a manifesto of psychological insight and political solutions that is difficult to criticize.
The book is the culmination of years of research, private discussions with fathers around the country, and personal experience. The result is a description of and response to cultural forces that separate men from women and how these forces diminish our economy.
“We have laws, policies and stigmas that are stuck in the past,” Levs said. “Why are we the only developed economy with no paid maternity leave? The reason we don’t have paternity leave, it’s because we have these policies that are based on the presumption that the woman will stay at home and the man will go to work.”
In “All In,” Levs suggests a family leave system similar to 401(k) retirement accounts. Employees could reserve some of their pay in a fund that could be used in specific situations.
“Workers would be allowed to set aside some portion of their pay tax free, perhaps 5 percent, up to a legal cap,” he writes. “It would go into a fund they could access when they have a qualifying situation not covered by their employer’s disability plan (or by a paid leave plan if the employer has one).”
Levs spoke with leaders of multiple religions about achieving spiritual and mental health. The similarity of each prescription astounded him.
“There are voices of people in Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism,” Levs said. “What I found is that there’s this incredible commonality and unity among religions when it comes to the most important thing: how to live. And that is something we don’t hear enough about.”
Levs’ own path took him from Albany, N.Y., to Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and finally to Atlanta. He said kashrut has a central role in his life.
“I grew up Conservative,” Levs said. “I was like Mr. USY in high school. On the Israel pilgrimage, I was the leader in USY. I continued to do Jewish stuff at Yale, and I keep kosher. I actually gave a sermon at Emory Hillel a few years ago about how keeping kosher makes me a better person.”