New Dad Jitters
Today's fathers are more involved than ever with their newborns -- and sometimes more stressed than ever. Here's how to cope with the everyday demands of 'dadhood.'
Sept. 25, 2000 -- Eighteen men, all strangers to each other, are sitting in a circle in a bright hospital meeting room in Irvine, Calif. Some of the guys have babies on their laps and blissed-out expressions on their faces. The others look nervous, as they reluctantly begin to talk about themselves. "I'm worried," says one man. He couldn't be much more than 20 years old, but he's got rings under his eyes and looks jittery as he spins a paper coffee cup in his hands. "My dad used to get mad when I'd do something wrong; he'd hit me -- really let me have it. I keep wondering if I'll be able to handle my own temper when the baby comes."
A tall, handsome man stares fixedly at the floor. "I'm afraid it'll be the end of my love life," he says, rubbing his hands together. "What if my wife no longer finds me necessary?" He looks up tentatively, as if expecting the others to be shaking their heads in disgust. Instead, half the men in the room are nodding in sympathy. "Things have been good," he goes on, "and everyone keeps telling me that nothing will be the same after this."
Suddenly, a burly man jumps up and makes a time-out gesture, like a coach at a basketball game. "Diaper change!" he barks in a New Jersey accent. "We need a volunteer." The coach -- group leader Barry Fitzgerald -- points to one of the men without babies, who reluctantly gets down on his knees next to a chubby 2-month-old girl. But with expert advice from the baby's dad, he rises to the task. "It's like cleaning a fish," the dad says. "You get rid of the unwanted stuff, make it nice and clean, and then wrap it up tight."
Welcome to boot camp. Boot Camp for New Dads, that is, where raw recruits -- "rookies" they're called here -- team up for four hours with grizzled veterans who have been in the parenting game now for as long as three months. The 12 rookies get to ask questions and talk about their fears and expectations. The vets -- who were here as rookies only a few months before and are accompanied today by their babies -- dish out advice and reassurance and serve as living proof that fathers can survive -- and even thrive -- along with their offspring.