04/02/2013 04:05 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2013

"All" and the Modern Man

The subject of "having it all" has been lobbed anew.

This time, the volley comes from Lean In, the new book by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

I've followed the "all" debate with keen interest since the subject was launched by Anne-Marie Slaughter's now infamous "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" piece in The Atlantic.

As a man, I can have nothing but empathy. My career ambitions have never been in question. Men have historically enjoyed the luxury of a society-sanctioned career track. Nobody ever expected me to do anything other than pursue a career. The flipside is that nobody ever expected me to do anything other than pursue a career. What of men who want to go a less traditional route -- maybe take on the full-time parent role to support a high-achieving spouse? Stay-at-home dads are still pretty fringe, often written off as unmanly. Society may have professed enlightenment back in the 1960s, but we're still pretty safely pigeonholed in our stereotypical roles.

From my view both personally and from the HR suite, I see more and more dads who want to leave a home legacy as much as or more than a work legacy. Today's XYs desire more than just the dinner-table play-by-play... they want to coach, carpool, tuck in, and cook meals that don't involve hot sauce and a man grill. More dependable leave policies -- spurred by things like the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993 -- are recognizing those desires and helping to make that happen.

All is an X + XY Equation

But to take full advantage, there's going to have to be an accompanying shift in how all of us view our roles. If "career" remains unfairly the domain of men, "parenting" is unjustly camped outside women's doors. There's still a sense that dad doing the parenting is sort of an extracurricular activity. Moms mother; dads babysit. Moms silently change a thousand diapers; dads get a standing ovation from the grandparents for changing one.

To really move forward in this debate, that's going to have to change. For women to truly be able to equitably pursue their ambitions, and for men to be able to support them, we're going to have give career women and their devoted-father counterparts the unequivocal stamp of approval that recognizes, "These activities are not hobbies -- they are parts of who I am." And as the people who hire them, we're going to have to support these choices -- men taking paternity leaves, women given the top jobs -- without any raised eyebrows.

So, "all" as I see it is not all things for any one person -- it's the ability for any one person to equitably be able to shoot for all things.

An employee here at Bright Horizons noted some time ago in a blog a need for women to support each other's work/life choices; I'd say to really take the next steps, we're all going to have to start accepting -- and supporting -- each other's work/life choices across the board. And with the discussion once again in the forefront and the "all" debate volleyed back into play, now is precisely the right time to begin.