Chris Forbes, 31, the father of 8-month-old Natalie, told us about our most vital post birth role: protector. "Your mission is to be your wife's number-one advocate," he said. "She's going to be worn-out and tired, especially if she's breast-feeding. Your job is to shield her from the outside world."
Brian Lawrence, 27, a high-school math and English teacher and the father of 5-month-old Noah, put it more bluntly. "You'll need a strategy for fending off relatives," he said. "Sometimes you just have to say, 'Go away.'"
"Many people will call and ask, 'Can we help?' But don't be fooled," Sergeant Dave warned us. "It's a secret code that translates to 'Can we come over to hold the baby and never leave?' Mothers and mothers-in-law are particularly well-versed in the code."
The vets stressed that the early days are vital for new parents to bond with their child. "So what do we do when people call and say they want to help?" I asked, worried about my ability to discourage friends. We were told to use our voice mail or answering machines if we have them. Record on the outgoing message vital statistics such as when, what, how tall, how heavy, and when visitors are allowed.
Your answering machine can be much more than a shield. "Hi, yes, we've had the baby. Visitation hours are from 5 to 6, weekdays. No weekends, period. Laundry pickup is from 9 to 5, seven days a week. We offer great rates. You can pick up, clean, and deliver our laundry for free."
If you do answer the phone, take people up on their offer: "You want to help? We have piles of laundry."
Sergeant Dave forged ahead. "What about breast-feeding?" he asked us. "How many of you know that your wives will probably need help with this?"
We trainees stared at him blankly. We were supposed to help with breast-feeding?
"Getting the child latched on can be difficult for some women," Dave acknowledged. "But breast-feeding is worth the trouble. It really helps the baby bond with his mother." Latched on? Like what, a binder clip?
"If you learn to help your wife position the baby properly for breast-feeding, she'll be impressed and grateful," Dave explained.
Lt. Alex Brenner, 26, a U.S. Army physical therapist and an expectant dad, piped in. "That's great for the moms, but how do we fathers bond with the baby?" he asked. The veterans offered several suggestions.
"When you get home from work, take the baby and give your wife a break," one vet advised. "Changing diapers, feeding, burping, and bathing are surefire ways to bond," another offered.
"You'll make mistakes-everyone does-but you don't always have to tell your wife about them," Dave said. "If you make an active attempt to be a part of your baby's life, seek out answers when you need them, and learn to trust your instincts, you'll be fine."
"Now about sex," Sergeant Dave said, switching his focus and getting everyone's attention. "It's going to change."
One father said his wife had lost her desire after the birth; another said the desire was still there but never the energy. Another warned that even after sex returns, we should expect a great deal of coitus interrupts. "You and your wife are in the middle of something, and the baby starts to cry? You're finished for the night."
"But the good news is that our son is the best thing that's ever happened to us," Dave said, somewhat tempering the bad news about sex. "Having a child has brought my wife and me closer to each other than we'd ever thought possible."
Other fathers echoed his sentiments. "It's amazing, but hang on to every moment. It flies by," said Charles McCash, 34, a surgeon who told the group that he'd changed his schedule and stopped seeing patients one half day a week to spend more time with his daughter, Claire. He even confessed to sometimes arriving late for work because of his determination to get one more smile from his daughter.
"You're starting the most challenging, difficult, but incredible adventure of your life," Brian added.