Another Father's Path: Living With Food Allergies

Once the thought of having a baby became REAL for me, I developed the opinion that there will always be SOMETHING wrong with every baby born. I know that may sound harsh, but that’s just the way my brain has worked. Go in knowing that there will be something wrong and hope that it’s not a life-changing wrong. Hope your baby has 6 toes. Hope your baby has the need for braces one day. Hope your baby is far-sighted. Hope and pray that whatever the “wrong” is, it’s something that will still allow your baby to grow into a healthy, happy little person.

I was pretty certain that I hit the jackpot with my first-born son. He was adorable, always happy, healthy, did I mention adorable? Sure he had a little bit of eczema and WOULD NOT SLEEP, but that fit nicely into my criteria of “will still allow your baby to grow into a healthy, happy little person”. And then he turned one.

It was an incredibly normal weekend morning. I was in the kitchen doing manly things (I’m almost positive), and my wife was on the couch eating some toast with our son on her lap. And then he started to cry. A different cry. Not the “I want the…..whatever” cry. A something hurts cry. A something is wrong cry. My wife called to me and said “I think he might have bit his lip?! It looks funny.” I walked over to them; looked at my son; looked at my wife’s toast; looked back at my son and said (mostly calmly) “he’s having an allergic reaction.” His face was swelling- QUICKLY! I don’t know what my wife did after that. I’m not sure she knows. But I grabbed my son and took him into the kitchen. I found the biggest baby medicine syringe I could find (which was huge) and filled it full of Benadryl. I’m talking small turkey baster big. And then I watched. He was screaming now.

SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM…..Inhale

SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM……..Inhale

SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM………...Inhale

SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM…………….nothing

He couldn’t breathe.

I crammed that turkey baster of a syringe down his throat hoping I didn’t damage anything important, but not really caring, and slammed the plunger down. Benadryl went everywhere, but I knew a lot went inside him. And then I held him out in front of me and watched. After what was surely 4 or 5 hours (or 15 seconds) he coughed, took a little breath and started crying again.

Everything changed that day. After many doctor visits, blood work, etc. it was determined that our son had several serious allergies. Lots of foods and even some environmental allergens could pose serious health risks.

When I was asked to write this piece, I figured it would be a piece of cake. At this point I could probably write a small book about food allergies and the stories my family has had living with them. But I want this to be applicable to fathers-all fathers. Not all fathers have a child with food allergies. So the point I will try to drive home is this: As you interact with other families, other fathers and their kids, keep in the back of your mind that these families, that father, likely deals with stresses you don’t understand. Ultimately, this is a plea for kindness and understanding.

I’m sure some of you are thinking “food allergies? Big deal. Try managing childhood diabetes or autism or ADHD. Food allergies? No big deal? Here’s a story from last week. On the bus ride to my son’s after school program, the boy next to him was eating Valentine candy given out in class. Those little hearts with the messages on them. My son got the same ones but decided not to eat them because the ingredients said “Processed in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts.” A few minutes later that other boy stopped and said “something is wrong.” His mouth and throat felt funny and he thought he might throw up. This little boy was also allergic to nuts. My son knew what was going on and assisted the bus driver in giving him an injection of epinephrine (my sons’ epinephrine) which ultimately saved his life. It was my son that was crying and shaking as this boy struggled to breathe and had the epi-pen slammed into his thigh. It’s my son that internally processed what was going on. It’s my son that has his mortality brought to his attention every day. You didn’t see the look on my son’s face the following weekend when a hockey teammate sat across from him eating a breakfast bar and he wondered “does it have nuts?” Are they going to drink from the same water bottle 15 minutes later? Did you know that Halloween is the most terrifying of all Holidays for my family? That a loaf of bread cost nearly $9.00? That my son gets excluded from school activities and special occasions? Surprise class!! Mrs. Johnson brought in cupcakes for everybody!! There are lots of hurt feelings. What my family’s experience has taught me is this; I CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT YOU ARE DEALING WITH! I can’t imagine what it’s like to father a child that needs glasses, is a bully, has learning issues, or is just plain weird. I can’t imagine what you are going through as a father

As a kids’ hockey coach, I often find myself watching a kid and thinking to myself “What the heck is wrong with that kid?!?” Why is he so quiet? Why is he so uncontrollable? Why does he try so hard to be funny? Why indeed. I don’t know. I will never know what you, as a father, are dealing with. If I go back to my original opinion that there will always be SOMETHING wrong with every baby born, then maybe we should all try a little harder to be kind and try to understand. Try to understand that we are all struggling to give our babies the best opportunity to grow into healthy, happy little people.

Kraig and I spent a good deal of time together this past hockey season and it was really my first glimpse at raising a kid with food allergies. I always thought it was hard to be ingredient conscious in the South but their path is not a choice.

The reason I asked him to write this was for him to relay what his fathering experience is like. His honesty and willingness is refreshing.

We spent several nights on hockey trips this season and there were many team meals that he had to miss. Even when we went to restaurants, he had to call ahead and even bring his own food.

I guess I always thought of food allergies as worrying about the actual allergic reaction. I never put a lot of thought into how something like a peanut can shape the way you live your life. The truth is that he is dealing with food and environmental allergens.

From my vantage point, Kraig is doing a great job. I am grateful that he took the time to write something for this blog. – Sam Ford

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