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Birth of a Father

Boot Camp for Dads

WebMD Feature

Today, Michael Barrette is a laid-back, seasoned father, but this wasn't always the case. Before his son Brendan was born in August 1999, Barrette reluctantly "enlisted" in Boot Camp for New Dads to learn the ropes.

A program that brings expectant fathers together with recent dads and their newborns to learn from one another, Boot Camp for New Dads is now in more than 120 communities in 36 states. Graduates -- the "veteran" dads -- range in age from 16 to 60. Recruits, or "rookies," come from all income brackets and all ethnic backgrounds. Some are unemployed and others are corporate attorneys.

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"I didn't think I would learn much because I thought I was well-prepared for fatherhood," Barrette recalls. Because he was 9 when his younger brother was born, Barrette had some experience changing diapers, but a man's role in the family has changed dramatically in the more than 25 years since then. Back then, fathers didn't even witness birth because they weren't allowed in the birth room -- whereas today they are considered equal partners in the process, and are increasingly expected to behave as such.

"When I found myself in a room full of guys talking about what I was feeling, it was a profound experience," says Barrette, a musician whose group included a physicist, a couple of police officers, and a truck driver.

"It was a diverse group of guys all expressing the same fears and hopes," he says. "Everyone is concerned about creating a bond with their child."

Facing the Fear Factor

In a three-hour session, Barrette -- along with other rookie dads, veteran dads, and a coach -- discussed the potential pitfalls of fatherhood, such as the strain a new baby can put on a marriage and the baby blues their partner might suffer following delivery. They also learned some important "how-tos" -- such as how to swaddle, diaper, feed, and even hold a baby. Depending on the locale, Boot Camp typically consists of one or two initial sessions and ongoing support through monthly group meetings of new fathers.

"It's reassuring to hold and comfort a baby," says Barrette. "The fear factor melts away when you get the baby in your arms."

The idea for Boot Camp was sired about 12 years ago, when founder Greg Bishop, father of four and sibling to 12, noticed that most men just didn't seem to enjoy their babies.

"Virtually every man out there wants to do the job, but it's tough transition from 'guy' to 'father' and there are very few sources of information," says Bishop, a Boot Camp coach at the Irvine Medical Center in Irvine, Calif.

But that's changing. Boot Camp for New Dads has received a grant to work with PROJECT JUMPSTART to join with healthcare providers and community organizations to develop ways to reach, orient, and equip men to meet the challenges of fatherhood.

For example, in some hospitals, nurses are taking new dads to the nursery and walking them through the process of changing diapers and bathing the new infant, while the moms recuperate from delivery.

"If a lot of obstetric nurses did that across the country, men would be much more comfortable with newborns," Bishop says.

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