Soon-to-be-dads learn basics in parenting class

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
It's often repeated that children don't come with instruction manuals. This is a fact that either encourages parents to learn as much as they can or frustrates them to the point of breaking down.

While mothers are naturally forced to cope with the immediate changes throughout the pregnancy as they prepare for childbirth, what about the brand new fathers?

Are their roles just restricted to repeating breathing techniques and buying pickles and ice cream--or is there something more?

With shared responsibility of the fathers in mind during the Year of the Air Force Family, the Air Force Family Advocacy Program offered the "Dads: The Basics" course taught at the Hurlburt Field Airman & Family Readiness Center April 13-14.

According to the program's brochure, the course is set in an "all guy setting" designed to encourage men to share their concerns, stories and questions with fathers who are experiencing, or have already gone through, similar situations.

Gary Scott, 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy Program assistant, has taught the course to new fathers for three years.

"My goal is to give as much information as possible," Mr. Scott said. "The new dads catch on more to the 'war stories' about the first few months. It's our way of letting them know to be ready when these things happen to you."

A father himself, Mr. Scott said the setting enriched each session.

"I've seen that they seem to open up more with all males present," he said. "You can talk about more things without your wife or significant other present."

And the course didn't just include talking about the trials of parenthood: the participants got to practice with dolls both realistic in size and texture.

"I wanted to learn as much as I could," said Alex Santillan, a soon-to-be father. "This was a big help especially when he told us about how to hold and soothe the baby."

Along with how to handle a weeks-old infant, the methods in the class also covered the proper way to swaddle, bathe and--of course--change as many as 10 diapers a day.

"Changing a diaper looks easy until he starts doing kung-fu on you," said Jeffrey Logan, father to his one-week-old son Calvin. "But it can be fun, too."

New fathers tend to listen to the advice of volunteers with experiences and lessons from parenting children a few days to many years old. In addition to those stories, Mr. Scott emphasized the lifestyle changes that come with being a dad, including how they will not be able to always do what they used to or wanted to do.

"You will no longer be the king of the castle--your baby will," Mr. Scott said.

A major part of the course dealt with fathers relating to the mother's ordeal throughout the pregnancy. In order to give them a better idea about the changes, the men got to try on a 30-pound prosthetic "empathy belly" worn over the stomach to literally accustom them to the physical changes.

"The mother doesn't just roll into it--she grows into it over several months," Mr. Scott said. "This piece is very important because it gives the father an insight into the mother's experience."

That perspective also reinforced how important intimacy can help a couple through the trials of childbirth and postpartum depression. A simple, meaningful comment like "You're so beautiful" can mean everything to the self esteem of a soon-to-be mother.

"He also answered a lot of my questions and shared important things that I wouldn't have known," said Capt. Eric Maddox, 319th Special Operations Squadron.

With this current session over, the men said they left the class with a better understanding of the future joys and responsibilities of fatherhood.

"Starting at square one, I really didn't know anything," Mr. Logan said. "When I first got married, I wasn't set on having a child. But now that he's here, I can't live without him. He's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. This class was very helpful for first time dads like me."