Beyond Baby Talk
"I'm scoring big points with my wife by being here," said Dowd, to sympathetic laughter. The majority of expectant dads attend Boot Camp because their wives heard about it during babycare classes or happened to see a pamphlet in the hospital or obstetrician's office, says spokesman Dubin. "But the men quickly realize this is guy-to-guy talk," he explains. "It's very different from the birthing classes where they sit in the back of the room, trying not to nod off."
Only the stunt babies fell asleep at the Oakland Boot Camp. Guys were baring their souls in there. Coach Palmer asked them to talk about their fathers. Jerome Davis, a soft-spoken participant, told a sad story. His father beat him when he was small and abandoned the family when he was 7. "He would say, 'I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it,' said Davis mournfully. "I don't want to be like him. He was not a role model." When he stopped talking, there was dead silence.
Asked to discuss his concerns about fatherhood, the oldest rookie in the room, a local musician named T.J. who asked that his last name not be used, said, "I'm 47. I have an illness that makes me very tired at times. I don't make much money at all." He paused, then added, "Another concern is that I pass along my better traits and skip the negative ones."
Not all the issues were so serious. Rookie Jeadi Vilchis, who conceived a child with his wife after doctors had told them they probably wouldn't be able to have a baby, could muster only this: "Ever since my wife got pregnant, I haven't been able to get the smile off my face. I think I may be too excited." For his part, Dowd fretted over the knowledge gap between him and his wife: "She's read about 200 books, I've read about a chapter." The books he tried to get into, he said, seemed written for women, so he put them down. "But I want to be as prepared as possible because if I hear, 'You're doing this wrong, you're doing that wrong,' I probably won't react to it very well."
In fact, fathers who make an effort to get involved with their new babies but are criticized or otherwise nudged to the sidelines typically back away for good, says Kyle Pruett, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven, CT. This banishment of Dad to "the cheap seats," says Dr. Pruett, is "a great loss to both the child and the mother, who could use a competent pair of hands." Which is why Boot Camp teaches rookies to stake out their position, in the delivery room, in the nursery, in their baby's life, the way a power forward positions himself for a rebound. Dr. Pruett admires Boot Camp's timeliness.
Dads-to-be are encouraged to attend in the third trimester of their partner's pregnancies. This is the period, according to some experts, when expectant fathers are most receptive to such instruction. Dr. Pruett points to Canadian studies showing that in the month before and month after a man becomes a father, his testosterone drops as much as 30%. For three months after the birth of his child, his estrogen increases, possibly delivering additional tenderness just as it's needed. His body's production of a hormone called prolactin goes up too. "The only other time you are awash in prolactin is the first time you fall head over heels in love," says Dr. Pruett, who speculates that this surge in what endocrinologists call "The Relationship Hormone" could be nature's way of preparing men to be smitten all over again. "It's as if your body is saying, 'You weren't interested before, but you're interested now, aren't you?'"