In this special Father’s Day guest post, food allergy dad Brian Walker discusses how his family manages food allergies. Brian and his wife are the owners of Nutphrees Bakery in Chicago.
Tell us about your family and the food allergies affecting your family.
My wife Sonia and I have three kids, ages 8, 6 and 4. Our oldest is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. He had his first reaction when he was just over a year old.
How do you manage food allergies in your family? What have been your biggest challenges?
As anyone will tell you, it’s kind of a big change at first. The shock of it. Trying to understand it, coming to terms with it, and then learning what’s safe and what’s not. But after a while you get into the swing of things, and then it’s just normal.
We don’t have any peanuts or tree nuts in our home. We always have to be very aware when we’re out and about. Having home be a safe place gives us an opportunity to relax a bit.
Like many families who have a child with a severe allergy, we found the transition into school to be a challenge. When our son started kindergarten, there were no plans or programs in place to help prevent exposure or to educate the staff as how to respond to a food allergy reaction. Dealing with all that required patience and persistence. But it’s been worth it. The kids who have come after him have had an easier time. And now more people are becoming aware because, unfortunately, food allergies are affecting more and more kids.
Another challenge that we and other parents of food-allergic children face is keeping your child safe without causing them to feel anxious. We don’t want our son’s allergy to hinder or define him. And to be honest, finding that balance has been a learning experience.
On the positive side, many food-allergy families will tell you that they’re a bit in awe about how well siblings look out for and stand up for one another. Our son’s siblings are among his strongest advocates. Almost fiercely so. The kids really look out for him, and that means a lot to us. We’re proud of them. And we’re also extremely grateful for the many friends that he has that advocate for him as well.
What advice would you give to other dads of kids with food allergies?
Do what you can to help keep your kid from being excluded. Like, if the soccer team is going to an ice cream shop after the big game, meet them there, and grab a safe treat along the way. In our experience, kids don’t care that they’re eating a freezer pop instead of an ice cream cone. They just want to be hanging out with their friends.
And of course, make sure there is always an epinephrine auto-injector on hand. You don’t want to need it, but if you do, you’ll want it to be there.
How can other food allergy dads get involved?
Because of the bakery, we meet a lot of families who are going through the same things we are. Originally, we had simply set out to provide cupcakes for families like ours who couldn’t get cakes or cookies at a regular bakery. But in the process, we became a part of a very strong community. Being around others who understand, often communicating with just a look or a nod, and having people to share ideas or resources with has been a great benefit. I guess what I’m saying is: find that community, support that community, be a part of that community.
From all of us at FARE, we’d like to wish a Happy Father’s Day to Brian and all food allergy dads!
EDITOR’s NOTE: Nutphrees Bakery is a supporter and sponsor of the FARE Walk for Food Allergy in Chicago.