There's a scene in the HBO comedy Bored to Death where Ray, played by Zach Galifianakis, is desperately trying to calm his infant son. The child is inconsolable, and Ray's mother tells him that she used to "put some whiskey on a nipple" to calm him down when he was a baby. In a panic, Ray grabs a bottle of whiskey, takes a swig for himself, and quickly realizes that the sippy cup is no nipple. What he does next is the clincher: he pulls the baby from the highchair, opens his shirt, gives his nipple a quick douse of liquor, then puts the child to his breast. The baby contentedly begins to suckle, and Ray sighs with relief, cradling his son in the pose of a bearded, hairy-chested Madonna and Child. It's an incredibly funny image, though it also induces some squirming, and not just because he's given the kid alcohol. It just looks...weird. Similarly, when Robert De Niro strapped on the "Manary Gland" for a breast-feeding gag in Meet the Fockers, the image was played to make us cringe with discomfort. And it works.
But while the idea of baby-on-man-teat might make us uneasy, maybe it's time we reconsidered our squeamishness. After all, many of the benefits of breast-feeding have nothing to do with the milk but rather with how close skin-to-skin contact affects the parent's bonding with the infant as well as the infant's comfort and healthy development - and why shouldn't dad be a part of that?
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