Watch CBS News

Pete Buttigieg on fatherhood

Pete and Chasten Buttigieg on fatherhood
Pete and Chasten Buttigieg on fatherhood 06:52

When it comes to handling a pair of toddlers, Pete Buttigieg, the unflappable Secretary of Transportation, may appear a little jet-lagged. Pete and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, raise their two-year old twins, Penelope and Gus, in Traverse City, Michigan, where they recently moved full-time from Washington to be closer to family.

The kids call Pete "Papa," and Chasten "Daddy."

Asked if they are a good cop/bad cop duo, Pete replied, "I don't know if we have it down to good cop/bad cop. I think of myself as the bad cop, but you think I'm a pushover, don't you?"

"You are 100% a pushover," Chasten acknowledged.

Chasten and Pete Buttigieg with their twins, Gus and Penelope.  CBS News

Their journey to parenthood began nine years ago, when Chasten brought up children on their first date. The two married in 2018 – the schoolteacher and the hyper-driven Harvard grad, Rhodes scholar, Navy vet, and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

A year later Pete launched his history-making run for president at the age of 37.

Chasten said, "I think the presidential campaign aged our marriage five years. So, by the time it was over, I think we both really understood that we were ready to start a family."

They chose adoption, a campaign unto itself. "Like so many adoptive parents, there were some false starts, and some heartbreaks," said Pete. "Sometimes you get the call, but it turns out it's not the call."

Chasten said there were five false alarms: "We'd go to bed thinking that maybe by the next day we might be parents, and then the phone call comes in and a different family was selected, or something else happened."

Then came the call. "I get so worked – oh, man, I get so emotional every time I talk about it! They were so little; they were, like, four-and-a-half pounds. And I remember we walked into the room, we were just frozen, and the nurse said, 'Dads, you can hold them.'"

That joy turned to fear when their son Gus caught RSV, a common virus that can be deadly for infants. 

"Most parents don't think you're gonna be the kind of parent who knows their way around a children's hospital – and next thing we know, that's us," said Pete. "The work doesn't ever completely go away. I sometimes would have to take my laptop into the bathroom of Gus' ICU room, close the door, and then put a virtual background on Zoom."

These days, Penelope and Gus are hard to keep up with. But Pete described the importance of this time in their lives: "I think for any parent, you're trying to get from task to task to task. And then you've gotta stop for a second and realize that these are some of the best and most important parts of your life, not just your day!"

For Pete Buttigieg, work is all consuming. He's the chief project manager and salesman for the trillion-dollar infrastructure law to help rebuild America's aging roads, bridges and rails.

In April he helped break ground in Las Vegas on the nation's first high-speed train shuttling passengers between Sin City and the Los Angeles area. "It's ambitious," he said, "but you know, America is built on ambitious, aggressive plans to do big things. … I mean, this will be one of the cathedrals of American infrastructure."

But then, there are other cathedrals collapsing. During his tenure as secretary, Buttigieg had faced a number of crises: congestion at ports, the airline meltdown over Christmas, the train derailment in Ohio, the blowout of the Boeing plane, and recently the bridge collapse in Baltimore.

Asked if he sees a systemic problem, Buttigieg said, "When we got here, we were facing the most intense and multifaceted disruption to our transportation systems since 9/11; that was related to COVID. But that's not the only problem. The problem of under-investment has built up over about 40 years."

Vigliotti asked, "If President Biden is reelected, how much longer do you stay on as secretary?"

"I don't know, and I don't mean that to be a political answer, though it sounds like it," Buttigieg replied. "I don't think that I'll bring longevity records in this job. I love this job, but I also know that this is a job you can only do for so long."

The political wunderkind, who has stepped into fatherhood and embraced the unscripted, was asked, "Is there a world where you see Penelope and Gus living in the White House in 2029?"

"I don't know about that," Buttigieg replied. "That's just not how I'm thinking, about even the near future. If anything, having kids that little makes you think more than anything about the really long-term future, past when I'm even around."

Vigliotti asked, "When you went on your first date with Chasten, did you ever imagine you would be here today, in this place in your life?"

"Part of what's amazing about falling in love and getting married is that you're in it for this journey that you just don't know where it's gonna take you," Buttigieg replied. "But, I can't imagine I could have asked for anything better. Not that it hasn't been hard, but if you asked me that summer night nine years ago, told me what was gonna happen, and this? It would have seemed greedy to even hope to have all of that nine years later."

For more info:

Story produced by Dustin Stephens. Editor: Joseph Frandino. 

See also: 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.