But the candid remarks of a number of powerful men remind us that, if they choose to be, fathers can be partners in the effort to feed their children. It’s a welcome counterpoint to cultural depictions of fathers as helpless and detached – and to even more damaging norms that encourage men to ignore some of the most fulfilling and intimate aspects of raising a child on the grounds that these tasks are women’s work.
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg was one of the first officials to offer personal testimony about what the shortage has meant to him. Buttigieg and her husband, Chasten, adopted twins last year. Because breastfeeding isn’t an option for men, Buttigieg told ABC News last weekend that the two were “shopping around, checking online, contacting relatives in other places where they didn’t have the same shortages to see what they can send.
And it’s not just gay dads or Democratic paternity leave champions who have spoken about the burden of making sure their babies have enough to eat. Republican men gave eloquent testimony to the anguish of formula research and the costs of scarcity.
During a May 19 subcommittee hearing on the Food and Drug Administration’s 2023 budget request, Rep. David G. Valadao (R-California) relied on his own experience to push back against the idea that parents are too picky or not flexible enough about what their children eat.
“One of my own children depended on a very specific type of formula,” he recalls. “So as a dad who has… been in a situation where I had to drive all over town looking for specific formulas – and that was long before any shortages – I can only imagine the stress these parents are going through. “
Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) read a letter from a father whose daughter is allergic to milk. He explained that, in the case of this particular child, a policy change intended to alleviate the overall shortage actually threatens his access to infant formula that he can drink safely. Normally, sole-source contracts with manufacturers limit recipients of government assistance to a few formula choices, unless a doctor approves of the need for an alternative. But to ease the shortage, states have lifted those restrictions on what parents can buy with their vouchers. As a result, families started buying other formulas, including hypoallergenic formulas, not knowing how much some families needed them.
“I had to resort to formula feeding from out of state and Canada at times,” the father wrote to Moolenaar. “Shipping costs are a huge burden on my family. And that requires hours of research that I could spend with my family.
The men who stand out in these stories are partners, not distant providers who delegate to women the life-and-death duty of feeding babies. And why should they want to offload these responsibilities? There are few things more satisfying than feeding a baby and feeling that little person relax into an attitude of fulfillment and total confidence.
Conversely, the fear of letting a child go hungry is a fear these men know intimately, and not just in the abstract. And the work of finding a formula that should be abundant is not just an inconvenience to them or a distraction from their work or hobbies; it’s robbing them of the time they would rather bond with their children.
No amount of discussion, let alone that of a congressional subcommittee, will change gender roles in parenting overnight. Still, it was a relief that the tasks of providing personal anecdotes and generating empathy didn’t fall solely on Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.), who recalled a time when ” I was completely dependent on infant formula to meet the needs of my children. nutritional needs”. Unlike Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who in 2018 became the first senator to give birth while in office, Letlow can know for sure that her male colleagues understand what she means when she talks about this part. of parenthood.
Feeding a baby is a family responsibility; the men who speak of formula have demonstrated it. Maybe once the shortage passes, they can keep talking. Other men deserve to know that sharing this part of parenthood is not just a source of stress, but an opportunity for joy.