Daddy Boot Camp


Brave New World

We moved from quality time to childproofing. "Imagine what the world looks like from your baby's point of view," Dave said. "Get on your belly and crawl around. You'll be amazed at the dangers you see."

The veterans said they'd had no idea their homes were so hazardous until it came time to babyproof them. They then gave advice on a litany of devices, products, and safety measures necessary to protect our tots.

"How do you know if something is a choking hazard?" Dave asked.

He pulled a cardboard toilet-paper tube from his gear. "If it can fit in here, your baby can choke on it," he said, pointing to the tube's opening, which is about the size of the average infant's open mouth.

The vets then told us about their favorite baby products. "Learning about these items is your responsibility," Dave said. "We're talking about the safety of your child here."

Jayson Clinton, 28, a department-store manager, raised his hand. "We have this crib that's a family heirloom," he said. "It doesn't quite meet current safety standards, but we really want to use it. Can we?"

"Maybe as a planter," Dave answered.

Hands-On Experience

"Let's take a quick break," Sergeant Dave said. "And wash your hands before you come back because you'll be holding the babies next."

I was watching one of the rookies. His face turned white. "Ever held a baby before?" I asked. He shook his head. With two nieces and a nephew, I wasn't nervous about holding a baby; feeding and burping frightened me. What if I couldn't do them right?

Upon our return from the break, we split into squadrons, with several rookies circling each vet. We were briefed on proper positions, including the cradle hold, the football hold (a dad's favorite), and the lap position as well as the over-the-shoulder-for-the-burp grip. I was assigned to Chris and his daughter, Natalie. I was nervous; she wasn't. She didn't flinch as I rotated her to display the basic holds.

She seemed more interested in the button on my sweater than anything else. Chris pulled out some baby biscuits and gave them to me. I'd never imagined that feeding a baby would be so captivating, but it was.

I glanced around the room and noticed Brian feeding Noah. I strolled over, and he put the baby on my lap. "You have to keep air from getting into the nipple," he said, instructing me on proper bottle positioning. I wasn't holding Noah tight enough either. "Clutch him closer," he said, gently grabbing my arm and pulling it around. "Don't be afraid."

Noah went at the bottle wildly, sucking and sucking. And minutes later-dozing and dozing. "He frequently falls asleep right after his feeding," Brian said. Me, too, I thought, but Noah had work to do. "He needs to burp," Brian said. Over my shoulder the tot went, still out cold. And then I was given the command: "Pat" and then "Harder." I was told this about three more times. "They're not as fragile as you might think," Brian explained, noting that burping requires quite a bit of effort.

I continued to pat, worried I might knock the baby into the Lamaze class next door. Five minutes later, Noah sounded off like a small cannon. I held him for another five minutes. "You're doing great," Brian assured me.

The aspect of fatherhood that terrifies me most is being responsible for another human being. But as I sat with Noah curled up against me, that fear began to fade.

The time I spent with the veteran dads at boot camp was reassuring. They were not superhuman-just ordinary guys like me.

On August 29, 2002 Hal Karp and his wife became the proud parents of Eli Maximilian Karp. For information on a boot camp near you visit

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Copyright © 2002 Hal Karp. From the April 2002 issue of Parents magazine.

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