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FARE Blog June 19, 2020

A Time When Dad Must Take Action

Being a food allergy parent can’t be left to mom. Dad must take an equal share.

Guest post by Paul Antico, AllergyEats.com

Paul Antico

Paul Antico is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of AllergyEats.com. He is also the father of five children, three of whom have food allergies. Paul utilizes his financial and public-speaking skills to advocate for the food allergy community, giving presentations to both food allergy audiences and restaurant management teams looking to understand the value of properly addressing and serving guests with food allergies. Paul has served on the Board of Directors of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and its New England chapter, the Advisory Panel for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Consensus Study on Food Allergies, the Food Allergy Working Group of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Food Allergy Education Advisory Council of the National Peanut Board.

It’s no secret that managing a child’s food allergies can pose its challenges. As parents, we must first learn all about food allergies ourselves – a decades-long, continuous process that follows our children as they grow and reach the many milestones of childhood development and into adulthood. During this progression, we also need to teach our children about responsibility and self-advocacy as they reach appropriate ages and prepare them (and others) for life outside our protective parent bubble. 

That can be a lot! Are they prepared for going to school, and for that matter, are teachers and staff prepared? What about little league and summer camps? Sure, we love that they have developed a nice group of friends, but how do we as parents rest at night when we send them off to their first sleepover? 

And don’t make us even THINK about them leaving the nest and heading off to college on their own! 

Is your heading spinning yet? It’s a massive undertaking to responsibly and safely manage a child’s food allergy evolution. Now, multiply that by three! My wife and I have been blessed with five wonderful children…three of whom – ages 22, 18 and 10 – have life-threatening food allergies. 

If I’ve learned anything when it comes to dealing with children’s food allergies, it’s that it is a SHARED responsibility! Being a food allergy parent can’t be left to mom. Dad must take an equal share. (Or vice versa.)

I get it, it’s tough. There’s no how-to book. Parents must mirror each other in the understanding and action of how to find the balance in protecting our kids while also giving them the confidence to live the full, happy and enriching lives they can, despite their food allergies.

Like so many, I came to this understanding through my own shortcomings. I once worked long hours in an office with less home time than I would have liked, relying on my wife for the day-to-day food allergy responsibilities of our children. And so, I won’t ever forget the weekend when my wife took our daughter on a trip, leaving us with a boys’ weekend home. Both my sons had allergies. Given my lack of cooking skill, we planned to eat out. Fortunately, like many families in ousr position, we had established a few go-to local restaurants that could accommodate us comfortably, despite our allergies. So, I was good. Wasn’t I? 

Saturday evenings bring crowds to restaurants. And 60-90-minute waits don’t sit well with hungry kids. (I now realize what a rookie mistake I made!) After passing on restaurant after restaurant from our “comfort list,” almost TWO HOURS since we left our house, fighting the many temper-tantrums raining down on me from the back seat, I finally found a little hole-in-the-wall pizza shop with egg-free pasta. 

Call it a wake-up, but I quickly understood that as a father I needed to take an equal role in this. Just like anything else, managing our children’s food allergies is a dual effort, no different than teaching right from wrong, how to share, or the value of good grades. And fortunately, by the time one of our children had his next anaphylactic reaction years later, my wife, my son, and I were all on the same page and managed a delayed-onset, biphasic reaction safely and appropriately.

There’s going to come a time when dad must take action, whether it’s shared custody, at a ballgame, or grabbing a quick bite after dance rehearsal when mom is on soccer duty… or out of town on a girls' weekend with her daughter.

Just as we might teach the game of baseball or give the first dating talk to our kids, the way dads (as well as moms) set the example determines how our children will develop a healthy relationship with their food allergies. It has to be our fight before we can pass the baton, allowing them to run without looking back towards all they dream of accomplishing. (And allowing us to rest with the knowledge that we’ve prepared them well for life.)

Food allergies are a shared fight, one in which dads can’t be afraid to roll up their sleeves. When the world seems scary or doubt is cast, our children look to us – BOTH parents. It’s the reassurances we provide, the examples we set, and the lessons we teach that comfort them in the knowledge that everything is going to be okay. 

If we practice this mindset, food allergy dads are more than up to the task.

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