Let's gather in a circle." David George Vequist IV, a 33-year-old human-resources executive, wasted no time calling us into formation. Some of the recruits resisted. "Over here!" Sergeant Dave ordered them.
I'm not the military type. I've never enjoyed waking up before sunrise or responded well to anyone giving me orders. Nonetheless, last spring I laced up my boots, bid farewell to my expectant wife, and marched off to boot camp, for a three-hour crash course in fatherhood training. I survived, and my wife and child will be grateful for what I learned that day.
Boot Camp for New Dads was created by Los Angeles health-care consultant Greg Bishop. It pairs expectant fathers with veteran dads and their babies. Bishop created the camp after meeting hordes of men who were ill-prepared for fatherhood. That was 11 years ago; today the program is available in more than 100 communities.
We met in a nondescript conference room at San Antonio's Methodist Hospital. For roll call, we gave our name and ETBA (expected time of baby's arrival). Our troop included a physician, a stockbroker, a retail-store manager, and a police officer. Most of the dads-to-be were closer to their life-transforming event than I. My wife, Leila, was barely four months pregnant. We were married on October 30, 1999, in New Orleans. A short time later, she became pregnant. It worked out exactly the way we'd planned it. I'm 36 and she's 38, and because we want to have more than one child, we needed to get started immediately.
Just as we finished roll call, we were joined by four veteran fathers. They arrived carrying babies and diaper bags. They settled in and found places for their baby carriers. Then Sergeant Dave announced, "Men, one day soon, you'll understand why these guys were late." The vets grinned.