A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to observe a new program in our community, Boot Camp for New Dads. This monthly event is an international program sponsored locally by the Brainerd Lakes Area Early Childhood Coalition and St. Joseph's Medical Center. The purpose of Boot Camp for New Dads is to help expectant dads prepare for the arrival of their new baby. Not only was Boot Camp educational, it was fun, and very manly!
There were six expectant fathers the night I attended the class was taught by veteran dad Jonathon Wallin, and facilitated by Mike Paulus. The way the class works is that the veteran dad brings in his new baby - usually two to three months old - and the expectant dads get hands-on experience in holding, diapering, burping, comforting and (if appropriate) feeding a real baby.
The new dads got to ask questions and raise any concerns they had. The facilitator made sure all their concerns were addressed, and the veteran dad shared his experience with each issue. After interviewing several men who had been through the program, this open-ended discussion among the guys was one of the things they liked best. Another valuable feature of Boot Camp was being able to actually handle a baby. Many of the men had never held a baby or even been around new babies. The hands-on experience boosted their confidence in being able to take care of their soon-to-be-born child.
I was amazed at the range and depth of topics covered in the session, and the male oriented approach to them. For instance, when you diaper a baby, hold their legs like you would if you're field dressing a pheasant. On the scheduling changes that a new baby brings to your family, you've just got to man up and do what needs to be done. On choosing diapers, it's just like buying car parts, you get what you pay for. Other topics covered in the discussion included finances, child safety considerations, what goes in a diaper bag, and teamwork with the mother after the child's birth.
This teamwork relationship with the mother was a central idea at Boot Camp for New Dads. Some of the topics covered under teamwork included: the dad's role as coach and support during the birth process, understanding the hormonal changes women go through after giving birth, knowing the difference between mothers' common experience of the baby blues and the uncommon but more serious experience of post partum depression, the importance of having dates, taking up the slack on housework after the birth, and dealing with relationships with friends and in-laws.
When participating men were asked what they would like to see changed at Boot Camp, they had two responses. The first response was change nothing, the whole session was great. Their second response was that more men should be participating in Boot Camp because it gets you ready to be a good dad. Interested men can call 454-5445 for registration information.
Lowell Johnson is a member of the Brainerd Lakes Area Early Childhood Coalition and a board member of the Minnesota Fathers and Families Network.
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