Boot Camp for New Dads helpful for dads-to-be and veterans alike
By George Diepenbrock
Last year as Kevin Flanders was preparing for his wife, Miranda, to give birth to the couple’s first child, he remembers thinking often about the unknown coming his way.
“I felt like I was pretty much just a blank piece of paper,” said Flanders, who grew up in Lawrence and now lives in Olathe.
To help him prepare, Flanders enrolled in Boot Camp for New Dads at LMH Health – a Saturday workshop offered in partnership with the nonprofit Dads of Douglas County. During the three-hour session, dads-to-be learn the ropes from veteran dads, especially past participants who bring their new babies to help offer advice, encouragement and share their experiences with the rookies.
“It definitely was cool seeing how all the dads interacted with their kids and how comfortable they all were, even in a room with a bunch of strangers,” Flanders said. “They did what they had to do as parents, and I found that very encouraging.”
The experience helped Flanders feel less self-conscious and more confident when his son, John, was born last November. He even returned with John to help teach a recent follow-up boot camp to the next crop of dads-to-be.
Jéry Marquez, Healthy Dads coordinator for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said, “A neat thing about facilitating the class is seeing the veteran dads return with their babies as really big pros. It is a big change from seeing them earlier as rookie dads. The boot camp aims to build confidence in rookie dads because many of them have never held a baby. It’s an empowerment opportunity.”
The course focuses on many important topics including ramping up to birth, settling in and taking care of the new baby, caring for new moms — especially managing visitors and stress levels and heightening awareness of baby blues and postpartum depression — and keeping the baby safe and healthy.
The nonprofit Dads of Douglas County is dedicated to encouraging and promoting the involvement of fathers in children’s lives. Board member Charlie Bryan, a business systems analyst at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said the group seeks to build a caring community where men can connect with other fathers for both friendship and support while building strong lifetime bonds with their children and partners.
Aside from the Boot Camp for New Dads offered through its partnership with LMH Health, Dads of Douglas County offers activities throughout the year, including a Fall Leaf Farm Campout. The nonprofit also partners with Lawrence Parents as Teachers to offer a Dad and Me Playgroup for fathers to-be to those with kids up to age 5. It meets from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month. During fair weather days, the group plans field trips across the area, and during cold weather, the group meets at the Lawrence Parents as Teachers Playroom at the Community Connections Center, 1430 Haskell Ave.
This year, Dads of Douglas County also will honor the father of the first baby born at LMH Health on Father’s Day.
“We’re excited to celebrate Father’s Day in our community by providing a gift basket for the first family with a baby born that day,” said Bryan, adding the basket is a dad’s diaper bag filled with diapers, books, soft toys, teethers, rattles, nail clippers, safety items and coffee — to help the new dad with potential early morning or late night duties.
The group wants to do all it can to help encourage fathers in Douglas County to have strong relationships with their children. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau population survey found 24.7 million American children, from birth to 18 years old, live without a father in the home.
Being raised in a home without a father also increases the risks of negative health outcomes for a child, according to the Fatherhood Initiative, including being four times more likely at risk to live in poverty, more likely to experience behavioral problems and to face potential abuse and neglect and even twice as likely to not complete high school.
As one way to help begin the father-child relationship on the right foot, LMH Health and Dads of Douglas County offer Boot Camp for New Dads each quarter. The next session is 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, July 13, at the LMH Health auditorium, 330 Arkansas St.
“It helps start building a strong relationship with your child, and it can help the child know you are reliable,” said Marquez, who also leads the Fatherhood Initiative classes in Douglas County. “With that foundation, the better your chances to raise a child in an environment of love and support.”
For Brendon Crain, an acting officer and engineer with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, the boot camp in 2017 was the best way to help attack stress and anxiety before his daughter, Breckyn, was born. It was eye opening for him to learn how to change a diaper, help swaddle a baby, learn about safe sleeping habits for an infant, and how to deal with baby acid reflux.
“In taking the class as a rookie, it empowered us to set ourselves on the right course,” Crain said. “Once we experience being a father, then that gives us the mettle that we have actually been tested and have done it.”
When he returned as a veteran dad to help with the class a few months later, Crain said he also noticed himself being more confident as he sought to help the soon-to-be dads.
“I think allowing us to be available to first-time dads is huge,” he said. “It also allows for that reconnection of masculinity that needs to be available for a healthy household and a good balance between both types of parents.”
Marquez said he stresses to new dads that giving birth and breastfeeding are the only things fathers are not physically capable of doing.
“Other than that, we can do it,” he said. “We just need to step up and show your partner that you can do it.”
For Flanders, who works in housekeeping in Kansas City, Missouri, he definitely felt he harnessed what he learned in the boot camp as his first few months as a new dad.
“Now that I’m a dad, I feel like I am able to pull from that pool of knowledge and be able to put everything into action,” Flanders said. “Even in going back to the class as a veteran, I learned from other dads — both veterans and rookies. It’s always nice to have the different perspective.”
George Diepenbrock is communications officer at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.