A Father's Perspective
Brandon S. Field
Champaign IL USA
Report on the 2005 LLLI Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 198-199
At the beginning of the LLLI Conference, I remember thinking that it resembled any other conference. There were many people of different ethnic origins and countries trying to become oriented with the hotel, tote bags displaying the Conference logo were distributed with information and advertisements, and everyone wore name badges. After noticing that the vast majority of the attendees were women, I began to realize that this would be an experience unlike any other.
Mothers wore their babies in all different types of carriers, toddlers were led around by adults, and older children ran and laughed as they tested escalators, stairs, elevators, doors, and ramps.
While my wife and one-year-old attended sessions, I spent the days with my three-year-old son, Alexander. We went to the zoo to see the animals and even brought an elephant home with us (a stuffed one, of course)! We also went to the Natural History Museum and the National Mall. The hotel proved to be a wonderful playground, too. Alexander enjoyed running around the spacious International Ballroom Terrace, playing in the playroom, drawing on pieces of paper that were left behind by others, and meeting Miguel, a doorman, who had a 20-year service pin and a dinosaur pin on his hat. Long walks in the afternoon lulled Alexander to sleep in his stroller.
My Conference experience was not free from what I call "celebrity geekdom." Celebrity geekdom has nothing to do with typical celebrities, but rather with a subset of the population that has its own celebrities. This happens whenever groups of people who share a special interest convene. I was in awe when LLLI Founder Mary White passed me on her way to the elevator. I even got to see LLLI Founder Edwina Froehlich in the Bookstore while I was waiting to check out! I was definitely in a state of celebrity geekdom each time I saw a middle-aged man without a child—I always tried to catch his nametag just in case he was Dr. Jack Newman. In my opinion, celebrity status is not reserved only for well-known speakers and members of the LLL community.
Celebrities are everywhere: every attendee who supports the organization; every Leader who volunteers her time and energy; every parent who struggles when raising a family; every father who provides love, encouragement, and glasses of water to his breastfeeding wife; and every Leader's husband who endures occasional ribbing from his friends about the greeting on the answering machine at home.
During my days in Washington DC, I knew that it wasn't just me who noticed what a unique group of people we are. I think the community around the hotel noticed, too. On Monday during our naptime walk, I wheeled my sleeping son into a coffee shop down the street. The man behind the counter looked at me, my stroller, and the Conference bag that was slung over the stroller handles. "Don't tell me," he said, "Your wife is at a convention."
"Have there been a lot of us?" I asked.
"For the last two days I've seen nothing but dads and babies," he replied.
I should have told him to be proud that his place of employment would be very breastfeeding friendly after the Conference was over!
What makes the organization so unique, I wondered? Part of it might be the attendance of children, fathers, and extended family and friends at LLLI Conferences—events that are all about children. Conferences are designed so that parents and health professionals can talk about what really matters to families, communities, and the world.
When I wasn't spending my days entertaining Alexander, I attended a few events for fathers. One was about The Global Initiative for Father Support. The goal of the Initiative is to build a network to help fathers support their breastfeeding wives and children. There were many different perspectives in the room and several interesting ideas came out of round table discussions. Another session I attended was definitely marketed to appeal to males. Speaker Jack Petrash used baseball analogies to discuss fathering. In one analogy that serves as the title of his book (Covering Home), he pointed out how parents often find themselves playing out of position, something that good ball players have to be able to do, but they only need to do it when the play really matters. Adaptability and resilience are characteristics that ball players and parents share.
I was impressed with my overall Conference experience. Yes, fathers often hear about what happens at local meetings. Sometimes we attend Couples Meetings, too, but seeing so many representatives of the LLL community in one place really puts the size and scope of the organization into perspective. LLL is so much more than breastfeeding advocacy and education. It's support for breastfeeding mothers. It's about passing on an ancient art to future generations. It's about regaining trust in our children and in ourselves. It's about sisterhood. During the Alumnae Association's presentation of We Remember at the Afternoon Tea, seeing all the names of Leaders who have died struck me with the reality that each of those women were wives and mothers who left their mark on the organization. The realization that my wife's name will be on that list one day brought a lump to my throat. Her memory will be shared with thousands of people.
The ties formed within La Leche League are strong. The organization is unique and has impacted many. It is helping to create a different kind of world—one that is breastfeeding friendly. And I am a different kind of dad because of it.