A reporter recently asked me about Boot Camp for New Dads, “Are there more dads than usual these days? Are they taking over the role of mom? What’s the spin? Why is there a need for a dads class?”
No, there aren’t any more dads than usual these days, but the view of fatherhood is definitely changing. The days of Dad bringing home the bread and waiting to get involved until his son can throw a baseball are over. In today’s family dynamics, both parents are working hard to make ends meet, so when it comes to kids and parenting, there certainly is more involvement from fathers.
In Orange County, Boot Camp for New Dads (BCND) is funded through the Heart of Florida United Way and is a program component of the Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County. Our goal is to help new dads learn the importance of their involvement with their infant and teach them “the ropes” before the baby gets here. There are lots of programs and support for expecting moms but virtually nothing for the dad. BCND was “born” in a hospital waiting room in 1990 with a couple of experienced dads answering questions for expecting dads, and has grown to become an international program with workshops in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and Europe. To date, more than 300,000 dads have become “Boot Camp Veterans.”
At BCND we coach new dads how to: hold a baby, calm a crying baby, change a diaper without getting “sprayed,” and care for mom before and after baby arrives. We also teach the difference between changing a boy/girl (that’s a big one) and cover topics about infant safety, including never shaking a baby and always placing a baby to sleep on his/her back. Teaching expecting dads the mentality of fatherhood is important because two people go into the hospital when a baby is born, but three brand new people come out. The responsibilities of “Dad” go a lot further than diapers and wipes. I teach dads three important aspects: Provide (not just money), protect (not just a lock on the door), and be present! You can’t do the first two if you aren’t doing the third.
Unfortunately, a lot of dads these days didn’t have a dad to learn from. The U.S. leads the world in fatherless families — 24 million children live without their biological dad. Forty percent of children haven’t seen their dad in six months. The statistics for children who do not have a biological father or father figure in their life are dramatic: these children make up 85 percent who are diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, 80 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system, and 70 percent of high school drop-outs. Children who grow up in fatherless homes are also at 165 percent greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect. Teen girls without fathers are twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to become pregnant as an adolescent. These statistics scream for programs that support fathers.
Unfortunately, many fathers have let themselves get pushed out of the picture. Most obstetricians and pediatricians will talk primarily to Mom; moms are often critical of how he takes care of the baby. In the past, some dads who attended birthing classes were offered “pregnant bellies” to wear in order to help them relate, but dads would rather skip class than suffer the embarrassment! Dads don’t need to learn how to be a mom, they need to learn how to be a dad! In our workshop, we let guys ask guy questions and learn how guys learn. Sorry ladies, no women over 2 feet tall allowed. (Veteran dads are encouraged to return with their baby and help teach their “fresh” perspective.)
I grew up with wonderful, involved and loving parents. My wife and I have two young children of our own and are foster parents to a teen. However, I still wish I had gone through a BCND when we had our first child! It would have made the first week at home with the baby a heck of a lot easier to manage!
In Boot Camp I tell dads that the best way to learn is from someone else’s experience. “You don’t have to recover from mistakes other dads have made, but you get to learn from them!” BCND won’t make diapers smell any better or make sleep easier to find, but knowing what to expect is huge. That’s one of the biggest takeaways from the workshop: having a handle on what to expect. One dad told me after a Boot Camp, “I was excited about the baby, but now I can be excited about being a dad… I know what lies ahead of me.”
Boot Camps are held at most of Orlando-area hospitals, including Winnie Palmer, Florida Hospital (Disney Pavillion) and Winter Park Memorial Hospital. Classes are offered monthly and at some locations weekly. Email [email protected] or visit Facebook page “Bootcamp for New Dads, Orlando.”
Bryan Nelson is the program coordinator for Boot Camp for New Dads.