All In review

I finished this book a few days ago but have struggled to write this review. Why? I just don’t like reading book reviews. Too many simply summarize the book and sprinkle in a few vague statements about how good (or bad) it was. The good reviews give a unique perspective on the author, background on the book, or some interesting connection the review’s author has to the book.

I don’t have much to offer related to the author or book. Even though All In was published 7 years ago, I didn’t know it existed until a few weeks ago. But I did find myself in this book.

I connected with All In because it is a book for dads who are dissatisfied with how society in general is approaching dad-dom. (Hm, in my head “dad-dom” sounds better than fatherhood, but I’m not sure it works written out. Dadom? Daddom? The realm of the masculine figure in the household.)

That focus on dissatisfaction drove me a little crazy for parts of the book, which is ironic, because Mr. Levs spent so much time trying to argue we should feel more positive about everything related to fatherhood! Which is why I kept reading.

As I read the book, I found myself wanting to be a better father, to be “all in.” I found myself thinking of the ways that I hold back. How it’s so much work to get my kids out of the house to do things, so we stay home too much. How it’s harder to make dinner or do a chore with their help, so I find a way to distract them so I can do my stuff. How I am reluctant to answer a question because the incessant stream of questions that will follow that first answer.

But the book reminded me, again and again, of how rewarding being all in is. How showing my children the wonders of the world is something I won’t get a second chance at. How teaching them to care for themselves and their space is one of the most important skills I can share. How feeding their curiosity encourages them to keep asking questions when all the easy ones have been answered.

The focus of the book is on the challenges our culture and laws throw before fathers: the lack of paternal leave; stigmas that discourage fathers from taking it; the stereotypes of clueless dads; fear of men. I’ve faced some of these.

One of the reasons I am a stay-at-home dad rather than a part-time professional is because it is very difficult to be a part-time professional in our society. Careers, daycare, etc. are often built around the schedule of fulltime workers. For a brief time, both my wife and I worked. We took our oldest daughter, then about 2, to a daycare for part of the day. We wanted her home most the day, so I picked her up at lunch time. Unfortunately, she was the only one who didn’t stay until later. She felt isolated because of that. The social isolation and the cost didn’t seem worth it. I was fortunate that my wife had a well-paying job that she enjoyed.

The result has been that I’ve entered a world dominated by women. Schools and daycares default to calling my wife (despite the fact that they interact with me nearly daily and often haven’t met her), the majority of Tiktok and Instagram parenting accounts address moms, and it can be a little uncomfortable at storytime or the park during the day. If I walk up to that group of moms and try to start chatting, will they include me in the conversation? If I comfort one of their kids, will they assume I’m a creep?

But I came away from the book encouraged and hopeful, because there are fathers like Mr. Levs – and many others he interviewed for the book – who are all in. They are working to raise their children to be good people. They are also working to erase the barriers they have faced as fathers. I want to be all in on that aspect, too.

Fathers need paternal leave. All working parents need paid family leave. We need more support for parents – we need cities and transit systems built around families. We need jobs and childcare designed for working parents. We need more men on the playgrounds, in the day cares, at storytime. If we want women to be more equal in the boardroom, we need men to be more equal at home. One thing I want to do is explore how we can better do these things. All In encouraged me not just to be a better father, but also do the work to help other men do the same.