From Dude to Dad: Parenting Classes for Men

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Men unsure about their impending new role of fatherhood may welcome all-guy classes to boost their knowledge and confidence for being a good dad.

Brian and Camie Donohue are typical expectant parents. They dutifully signed up for the Infant CPR, Childbirth Preparation, and Breastfeeding 101 classes offered by their local hospital. Together, they sat with other anxious couples as a registered nurse explained the stages of labor and how to swaddle a newborn. But it just wasn’t enough for Brian. He needed something more. So one night a week, he left his heavily pregnant wife to her pickles and ice cream to kick back with the guys and shoot the breeze about things that were on his mind … things like pacifiers and diaper cream.

That’s right. Brian is among the growing numbers of men who choose to attend all male fathering seminars in an effort to arm themselves with the ultimate parenting tool—information!

Why Just Guys?

Let’s face it, the majority of baby books out there are aimed at women, and moms do most of the research when it comes to newborn care. Dads are dragged along to child prep classes with their swollen wives but tend to remain mute during the discussions, silently counting the minutes until they can escape to the safety of the car.

“Men don’t want to look stupid or dumb,” explains Chuck Aycock, a Minneapolis-based counselor with 15 years of experience working with new dads. “Guys think, ‘If I ask that question in front of my wife, she’ll think I already ought to know that, so I just won’t ask,'” he says. Aycock finds that men are much more likely to speak frankly and “take the gloves off” when they’re among a group of like-minded peers.

Donohue says the men-only classes he attended in Minneapolis were definitely different from the co-ed ones. “The guys spoke more and they got to blow off a little steam instead of being careful around their pregnant wives,” he says. New father Michael Newkirk had a similar experience when he attended the Training Camp for New Dads in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “While everything else is for Mom and Baby, this was totally geared toward dads.”

Beyond the Basics

Besides creating an environment that makes men feel at home, these classes cover newborn how-to’s such as diapering, bathing, and dressing. Some also address infant first aid and common childhood ailments.

Class attendance runs around five to eight guys and may include slideshows, books with pictures, and skills drills on baby dolls. Some programs even feature Q & A sessions with recent graduates who bring their own newborns along. Bill Webb, director of the Sioux Falls Fatherhood Initiative, calls these veterans Demo Dads. He says, “It’s great for the guys to see a living breathing example of a competent father. While the men talk, the Demo Dad will mix a bottle, change a diaper, and possibly soothe his crying baby.” It can be a real eye-opener for the students who may have never seen a man care for an infant.

After the birth of his son, Newkirk returned to Webb’s class to assuage the fears of the new crop of daddies there. He said that many men can’t imagine taking a new baby in public by themselves, but seeing another guy care for his child was liberating and encouraging for them. He says, “I told them the fear is normal, but you can get past it.”

But sleeping tips and spit up are only part of the picture. Many new-dad classes place equal, if not greater, emphasis on the most significant skill of all—being a good father. They talk about the tremendous emotional and developmental impact of a father in a child’s life and how men who grew up fatherless can still become the kinds of dads they wished they’d had. Students engage in frank discussions about their own fathers, their fears of failure, and their desire to be role models for their children.

The instructors, often family counselors, also discuss the importance of a father’s relationship with his wife and how it changes upon the birth of a baby. Aycock addresses postpartum blues, a hormonal roller coaster that many men can’t fathom. He also urges new dads to help their wives leave the house within 10 days of the baby’s birth and stresses “dating your wife again” because after all, she’s a changed woman.

Food and Freebies

So what can a guy expect when he walks into a new daddy class?

“Food!” says Rebecca Graham, director of Healthcare Programming for the National Fatherhood Initiative. It’s simple—guys like food, so a hearty snack makes them feel more at ease. They like sports too, so Graham makes sure her Saturday classes end by 2:30 so everyone gets home in time for afternoon sports broadcasts. Webb not only provides lunch, but tosses out masculine door prizes donated by local businesses such as gift certificates to auto parts stores and boxes of golf balls.

Calling All Dads

If you’ve never heard about fatherhood classes in your area, don’t be surprised. They’re a relatively new phenomenon, but one that is rapidly gaining popularity. Most guys hear about classes while attending a co-ed childbirth class, but Aycock and Graham say that word of mouth is their best recruitment tool. Dads who take this type of class typically enter with trepidation but come out ready to tell their friends how great it was. If you’d like to find a fatherhood class in your area, call the local hospitals, OB offices, and churches for references.

Fathers to the Future

While learning how to diaper a baby and when to call the pediatrician is certainly useful, basic baby care isn’t the main goal of these classes. Fatherhood is. Graham says, “Men are most eager to be fathers at the birth of their child. The slate is clean. We help them be the best they can be with concrete tools because they are a key component to the development of any child. Without dads, we’re missing half the equation.”

That’s a message men need to hear at a time when all the focus seems to be on their wives and the new babies. The metamorphosis from dude to dad can’t be done in a vacuum. Guys need advice and support from other men in a masculine environment that caters to their way of thinking.

“Here’s a class about me, that helps me understand what I should be thinking about,” says Donohue. “I liked it because it was focused on fathers. It made me excited about my job.”

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