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Birth of a Father

Boot Camp for Dads

What to Expect When You Are Expecting continued...

And after the new parents get home, when everybody wants to visit and "help"? "The dad should take charge of directing visitors in terms of what is most helpful and what is not," he says.

After the initial circle chat, the class breaks into small groups of one veteran and several rookies to learn how to change diapers, feed a baby, and comb his or her hair, Ault says. "Often a pretty good percentage of men in class will have never held a baby," he says.

Later, everyone gets back together to discuss such topics as baby blues, breastfeeding support, basic safety such as baby-proofing the home, and some instruction in shaken baby prevention.

Shaken baby syndrome is a severe form of head injury caused by the rebound of the baby's brain in its skull when shaken. It is almost always caused when an angry parent or caregiver shakes a baby to punish or quiet the child. About 70% of time, that injury takes place at the hands of men, says Ault.

We Want You

Just like the U.S. Army has recruiting outfits in all 50 states, Boot Camp for New Dads recruits everywhere expectant fathers hang out, including hospitals, clinics, schools, churches, and military bases across the U.S. The cost is nominal -- anything from free to $20, depending on the specific program.

"We try to reach them as they become fathers," Ault says. "We are connected with obstetrician practices and other classes the hospital may offer for new parents -- including hospital tours."

That early contact is important, because if men's first experience as a father is bad -- or completely missing -- they're more likely to go AWOL from duty. It happens all the time: According to data gathered in 1998 by the National Fatherhood Initiative, 42% of American kids are growing up without fathers in their homes, a statistic Bishop is bent on improving.

The Results?

"We have been pretty overwhelmed by the results that we have seen. It has exceeded our expectations," Ault says.

Billy Kaplan, a Chicago therapist who coordinates Boot Camp for New Dad's activities in Illinois, agrees.

"It's been astounding. I've seen dramatic changes," says Kaplan, also the head coach at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston.

"One guy came to the workshop, and at the beginning said he was not going to have a relationship with the child's mother but he wanted to be an involved dad. He came back a few months later with full custody and was raising the child on his own," Kaplan says. "All graduates are saying it makes a big difference in parenting and preparing them to be better fathers and partners."

Kaplan has joined with a group called the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative to spread the program to additional hospitals and to men at risk for abandoning their babies, those who are poor, uneducated, and/or not married to the mother.

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