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To Eric Swalwell and All the Daddy Superiors

Vivia Chen

July 1, 2019

13497516018421Someone should tell Eric Swalwell, U.S. Representative from California, to knock off the diaper stuff. Did you catch what he said during his closing statement at the Democratic presidential debate?

“When I’m not changing diapers, I’m changing Washington,” Swalwell said smugly.

That “Look at me, I’m awesome—I can do diapers!” shtick reminds me of what I’m hearing from women about the “woke” dads in their offices. Their male colleagues often make a big show about their parenting duties, and women are sick of it. “It’s like they expect to be congratulated,” says a female in-house counsel.

You know the type: They’re always firing off emails to colleagues or making grand announcements at meetings about how they’ll be out of reach for a few hours because they have to attend their kids’ soccer game or ukulele recital. Worse, some of those men expect their female colleagues to pick up the slack while they’re away.

For years, we’ve been hearing about the motherhood penalty and fatherhood bonus in the workplace. (According to research by sociology professor Michelle Budig of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, employers value dads but not moms. Men with children increased their earnings by more than 6%, while women’s earnings decreased 4% with each child).

But what’s happening is that men seem to be exploiting that advantage and playing the fatherhood game to the hilt.

“It is such a wholly acknowledged truth,” says a female partner of an Am Law firm in New York about the daddy card. “I know many men who put on wedding rings for jury trials and include comments in their examinations about their family and kids,” adding, “I was shocked the first time I saw it, but it’s a common phenomenon. Juries like family men, and married men over single men, apparently.”

But are men just cynically playing a game or are they really getting in touch with their inner mommies? Well, there’s evidence that dads might be even more into parenting than moms. According to Pew Research Center, 46% of dads versus 41% of moms say they find parenting enjoyable all the time, while 54% of dads versus 52% of moms say parenting is rewarding all the time.

In fact, some men seem so into the parent thing that they voice breastfeeding envy. New York Times finance and technology reporter Nathaniel Popper writes about how switching to infant formula equalized his status as a parent: “Now, I was just as capable of feeding him as she was. This meant that I not only fed him, but learned about all the times when he wasn’t actually hungry but needed a burp or a clean diaper, or something else that we couldn’t figure out, but that was part of the essential mystery of parenting.”

That’s reading way too much meaning into feeding a baby, in my opinion. But whatever.

Of course, not all men make huge statements about parenting. I’ve also heard from women who say they work in more enlightened environments. “I personally see at my firm and many firms I encounter gender-equal support of parenting duties,” says a female partner at a Midwestern firm.

But let’s get back to the fun stuff: Daddies who want to be president. On the Democratic side, at least, they’re practically tripping over each other for the mommy prize. My former Am Law colleague Lisa Lerer, now at The New York Times, reports:

“Representative Eric Swalwell can rattle off the best places to pump breastmilk in an airport. Julián Castro broke from the campaign trail for the last day of preschool. And Gov. Steve Bullock postponed the announcement of his presidential campaign for a true test of personal endurance—the Advanced Placement exams that his 17-year-old daughter had to take.”

But Swalwell seems determined to win the prize. Swalwell told Lerer: “This morning, I changed a diaper before I got on a plane,” adding, “Last night, I came back for bath time. I generally do the wake-up, get them out of their pj’s, change the diaper and feed them.”

Not enough diaper details? No worry. Swalwell also posted a video of himself changing his daughter’s diaper,” reports Fox News. And the tagline: “If Eric can clean s#*% up at home … he can clean it up in Washington.”

Let’s pause. Now ask yourself: Can you imagine any woman running for high office or gunning for partnership or promotion doing that?

It’s enough to make you nostalgic for Ward Cleaver.


Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist. 


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Vivia Chen, you are a rock star. I just love your articles.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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