Today, Michael Barrette is a laid-back, seasoned father, but
this wasn't always the case. Before his son Brendan was born in August 1999,
Barrette reluctantly "enlisted" in Boot Camp for New Dads to learn the
A program that brings expectant fathers together with recent
dads and their newborns to learn from one another, Boot Camp for New Dads is
now in more than 120 communities in 36 states. Graduates -- the
"veteran" dads -- range in age from 16 to 60. Recruits, or
"rookies," come from all income brackets and all ethnic backgrounds.
Some are unemployed and others are corporate attorneys.
Men rarely see Thomas J. Weida, MD, for medical tests without prodding from a wife or girlfriend. When they do show up, Weida jokes that he “can see the drag marks on the carpet.”
It’s amusing, of course. But it can quickly turn serious when a man ignores important symptoms. Weida says he knows of men who got away with ignoring chest pain for a couple of weeks. Eventually, though, they died of heart attacks.
"I didn't think I would learn much because I thought I was
well-prepared for fatherhood," Barrette recalls. Because he was 9 when his
younger brother was born, Barrette had some experience changing diapers, but a
man's role in the family has changed dramatically in the more than 25 years
since then. Back then, fathers didn't even witness birth because they weren't
allowed in the birth room -- whereas today they are considered equal partners
in the process, and are increasingly expected to behave as such.
"When I found myself in a room full of guys talking about
what I was feeling, it was a profound experience," says Barrette, a
musician whose group included a physicist, a couple of police officers, and a
"It was a diverse group of guys all expressing the same
fears and hopes," he says. "Everyone is concerned about creating a bond
with their child."
Facing the Fear Factor
In a three-hour session, Barrette -- along with other rookie
dads, veteran dads, and a coach -- discussed the potential pitfalls of
fatherhood, such as the strain a new baby can put on a marriage and the baby
blues their partner might suffer following delivery. They also learned some
important "how-tos" -- such as how to swaddle, diaper, feed, and even
hold a baby. Depending on the locale, Boot Camp typically consists of one or
two initial sessions and ongoing support through monthly group meetings of new
"It's reassuring to hold and comfort a baby," says
Barrette. "The fear factor melts away when you get the baby in your
The idea for Boot Camp was sired about 12 years ago, when
founder Greg Bishop, father of four and sibling to 12, noticed that most men
just didn't seem to enjoy their babies.
"Virtually every man out there wants to do the job, but
it's tough transition from 'guy' to 'father' and there are very few sources of
information," says Bishop, a Boot Camp coach at the Irvine Medical Center
in Irvine, Calif.
But that's changing. Boot Camp for New Dads has received a
grant to work with PROJECT JUMPSTART to join with healthcare providers and
community organizations to develop ways to reach, orient, and equip men to meet
the challenges of fatherhood.
For example, in some hospitals, nurses are taking new dads to
the nursery and walking them through the process of changing diapers and
bathing the new infant, while the moms recuperate from delivery.
"If a lot of obstetric nurses did that across the country,
men would be much more comfortable with newborns," Bishop says.