Saturday morning at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. New-fathers-to-be lean forward nervously as David Case passes his six-month-old son, Ryan, to a tentative Todd Ortlieb.
This is Boot Camp for New Dads, a partnership between the hospital and the Nurturing Dads Initiative of Children First. Since it started four years ago as part of the Community Foundation’s "Connecting Fathers with Families" initiative, 570 expectant dads ("rookies" in boot camp parlance) and 150 "vets" and their babies have passed through the free monthly course.
In a whirlwind morning session, vets like Case advise rookies about everything from delivery day to drooling. They cover serious issues like shaken baby syndrome and home baby-proofing, and light stuff, like what to pack in your diaper bag. "The vets are role modeling, showing the rookies how matter-of-fact parenthood is," says chief facilitator Jack Baker. "They take turns passing the baby; and for some men, this may be the first time they’ve ever handled a child that small."
No women are allowed, and Case, in real life a fifth-grade teacher, says that’s liberating. As a rookie, "I could ask the questions I didn’t want to ask in front of my wife or other mothers," he says. "As new dads we’re scared to ask certain questions because our wives will think, ‘Oh my gosh, they don’t know anything.’"
Rookies represent "the whole spectrum of dads," says Baker, "from an attorney in one seat to a construction worker in another." Their commonality, says Case, is "their willingness to learn and desire to be part of their child’s lives-to become better dads."
Interested dads-to-be can enlist by calling the hospital’s babies program at (941) 917-1700.