Five-month-old Ian Cooper was burped by John Miller in August during the "Boot Camp for New Dads" program at Pearl Harbor's Family Support Center.

New dads learn
from ‘boot camp’

By Gregg K. Kakesako

When Army Sgt. Steve Mitchell started a three-hour workshop to better prepare for fatherhood, he shied away from picking up and carrying 5-month-old Ian Cooper.

"I don't want to hurt that kid," the burly 5-foot-11-inch, 211-pound Schofield Barracks mechanic told instructor Chuck Ault. "I just don't feel comfortable, and I just don't want to drop him."

But by the end of the Pearl Harbor workshop for new dads, Mitchell was gently swaying and cuddling 2-month-old Julia Ketell, and she feel asleep in his arms. "It was cool," Mitchell said, "but I felt that I had to be very still."

So still that it gave him a stiff back, but confidence to meet his new task.

Mitchell, who is expecting his first child Nov. 25, was among the 15 "rookies" who participated in the island's first "Boot Camp for New Dads" sponsored by Navy Region Hawaii and the Tripler Army Medical Center and held at Pearl Harbor's Family Support Center recently. The second of these workshops will be held Thursday at Pearl Harbor.

Chet Adessa, the center's prevention and education specialist, said he hopes to hold these workshops every three months and has gotten "veteran" dads certified to conduct similar sessions where they are stationed.

Ben Woodruff interacted with 2-month-old Julia Ketell.

The three-hour workshop brings "rookie" fathers-to-be together with recent, "veteran" dads and their newborns to give them an idea of what it means to have a new baby in the house.

The topics range from keeping romance in a marriage to diapering, feeding and holding a newborn, to coping with changes in lifestyle and attitudes of both new parents and well-meaning in-laws and friends.

Petty Officer Chris Eddy, who is expecting his first child in December, said he didn't want to be like "a Homer Simpson dad" when Ault asked all of the rookie dads what they hoped to get out of the brief class.

Ault, who has been a national trainer for the nonprofit group "Boot Camp for New Dads" for 12 years, served as the facilitator for the group. His job was to keep the conversation flowing between rookie and veteran dads.

The format is simple. Each session begins with the rookie and veteran fathers sitting in chairs set up in a circle. As Ault introduces a topic, he asks the veteran fathers to relate their experiences in handling the situation.

Ian's father, Petty Officer Chris Cooper, said the biggest lesson he learned as a father was "to swallow my pride and to depend on the instincts of my wife. Take care of your wives and listen to them."

Cmdr. Kent Ketell, who now has seven children, advised the rookies to do some chores for their wives.

Seaman Casey Roberts, another veteran dad, said new mothers need to hear words of praise and support from their spouses. "You might be saying the same thing that others are saying, but you rank higher and so are your opinions."

Ault told the new fathers to establish relations with their newborn from the day the child is born. He discussed what he described as the "gatekeeper syndrome" sometimes exhibited by new moms who unconsciously may prevent her spouse from helping with the care of their child. "It's natural since she is more bonded with the child initially, and because you don't have the confidence, you may not know what to do."

After learning how to hold a baby and the importance of supporting a newborn's head, the group broke into three smaller groups. Two of these groups had babies for the rookies to handle. Discussion and questions continued at this time.

One of the last topics discussed by Ault was the problem brought about by frustration, which could lead to shaken baby syndrome. To dramatically illustrate the problem and the effect on the baby's brain when the child is mishandled, Ault placed a raw egg in a five-inch glass jar.

"The skull is about the size of this baby food jar," he told the group, "and the brain about the size of this egg."

He says it only takes one shake, done usually in the early morning hours when mom is away or too tired to respond to a child's crying. "Dad gets up from his sleep and tries to calm the baby by walking and walking, but nothing happens. At that point, tired and sleep-deprived, he gives the child one quick shake."

He then passes the glass jar around the group so everyone could examine the cracked egg with the white and yolk oozing out of the shell.

Rookies also were told never to handle their child if they were upset, frustrated or fatigued.

"Count to 10 for everything that has upset you," Ault said. "Take a deep breath. If you become frustrated, then put the baby down."

Finally, Ault told the rookies "to make a list of six things that make you a couple -- things you two like to do. Stick it in a drawer when the baby comes home. When the baby is 6 months old, take it out and then act on it. You will look like a hero who remembered the little things. But never tell your wife about the list."

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