fatherhood 101

boot camp for new dads shows new fathers the way

The cry of a newborn baby can be a living paradox, bringing both the joy of creation and moments of fear along with it. Feelings of inadequacy topped with an overwhelming sense of responsibility can often put a shadow over feelings of love, wonder and pride at being a part of “the miracle of life.”

It was out of a concern that fathers in particular lack the confidence and familiarity needed to simply enjoy their babies that Greg Bishop, health care consultant, brother to 12 and father of four, started Boot Camp for New Dads, a community-based workshop seeking to help men become better fathers.

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BCND’s story began, appropriately, on Father’s Day, 1990, in Irvine, CA. A group of “veteran” fathers sat down in a local hospital for three hours along with their babies to give advice to the dads-to-be, or “rookies.”

“Our curriculum evolved from asking the veteran fathers what they found most important in their experience as new fathers, Greg Bishop, president and founder, says. “Everything we know … is what we have learned from each other: When you get home from a long day of work, no matter how tired, give mom a kiss and take the baby to give mom a break because she has had a tougher day.

Change your baby’s very first diaper so you can set the tone that you are here to play; have the nurse walk you through it; you can also show mom, which will strengthen her confidence in you. Also, if you ever want to have a love life again, make sure mom gets enough sleep.”

In the mid ’90s, BCND was spotlighted by the media and after a successful installment of the program in Grand Forks, N.D., it began to sprawl nationwide.

“We actually found the expansion after ’95 to be fairly smooth in that the local sponsors were able to find men who are great coaches, and there was rarely a problem attracting rookies to participate,” Bishop says. “Our main challenge is finding the economic resources to keep Boot Camp going and expanding; while there is a great deal of support for programs for mothers, there is very little for fathers.”

The year of 2001 marked an enormous accomplishment for the program with BCND offering its curriculum in Spanish, a feat they are the only organization in the nation to accomplish.

“Our Hispanic program is very successful and we find a stronger sense of solidarity and willingness to help each other out among these men; they have an inherent feeling for family,” Bishop says.

The three-hour workshops are scheduled on Saturday mornings and are attended by rookies, the veterans and their babies and a coach to facilitate. They begin by talking about experiences with their own fathers and what kind of dads they want to be before moving on to the long list of questions the new dads have come up with to ask the veterans. Then at some point, the veterans hand off their babies to the rookies, many of whom have never held a baby before.

“It takes a measure of courage to attend the workshop, but once the veterans start talking, a sense of trust and solidarity quickly develops and communication is not an issue,” Bishop says. “These men are hungry for information they can trust and the rookies greatly appreciate what the veterans have to say. The veterans enjoy connecting with each other and take pride in the helping the next guy learn the ropes, just as someone else did for them.”

Now 20 years later, BCND has grown to become the largest program for fathers in the nation, having established more than 250 programs in 42 states and helping over 150,000 men. Bishop hopes to reach even more with the release of his book, Hit the Ground Crawling: Lessons from 150,000 New Fathers, a book “written by guys, for guys.”

“Our ultimate accomplishment will be to continue to help lead a renaissance in fatherhood that is occurring throughout the nation by raising the bar regarding a father’s commitment to his child, providing information these men can trust and showing then how to connect and help each other out. We have also been invited to develop our workshops in other countries and we look forward to a time when not only is failure as a father no longer an option, but men universally see excellence in fatherhood as the highest form of manhood.”

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