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    Learning the baby basics

    Seven rookie and expectant fathers gather for a crash course from the experts. Among the drills: bottles, burps and - of course - diapers.

    [Times photo: Kinfay Moroti]
    Jason Aquilar, 30, of Clearwater, left, and his 3-month-old sons give rookie dads a lesson in baby care. Clearwater resident Roger Bingham, center, holds Daniel while Burke Alevok of St. Petersburg feeds Jonathan.

    By TERRI D. REEVES
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 19, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- On Saturday morning, a group of men rolled out of bed, bid their wives goodbye and marched off to boot camp.

    But this was basic training of a different kind. The only screaming they would face was that of crying babies. The biggest obstacle would be to get the little ones to burp after their feeding. And the threat of friendly fire came from baby boys having their diapers changed.

    Boot Camp for New Dads, a course for rookie and expectant fathers, was held for the first time in Pinellas at the Sarah Walker Women's Center on the Morton Plant Hospital campus. Two coaches and three veteran dads showed seven new and expectant dads the ropes of infant care during the three-hour workshop.

    Roger Bingham, 32, has two children from a previous marriage but said he hoped to be more involved this time around.

    "I just kind of stood back and watched (before)," he said. "I've come here today hoping to learn something from the other dads. We guys don't know it all."

    The boot camp came about when Jim Gary, a 43-year-old computer services business owner and father of a 3-year-old, read an article about Boot Camp for New Dads in Reader's Digest and decided to contact Morton Plant about holding classes.

    "I saw a real need for this type of program," the St. Petersburg resident said. "We hang out with good parents, and I'm doing the best I can to be a good dad. I want to help other fathers experience the joy of this type of parenting."

    The boot camp was pioneered in 1990 by Greg Bishop of California, who saw a need to equip men with essential skills and a basic understanding of the challenges they would face as fathers. The program has spread to 150 locations across the United States.

    The boot camp is strictly men-only. During the question-and-answer portions, female journalists were banned, while male members of the media were allowed to stay.

    "We want them to be able to ask questions without feeling stupid," Gary explained.

    These question-and-answer sessions included taking care of the mothers' physical and mental needs, handling visitors, epidurals and Caesarean sections, postpartum depression, breast and bottle-feeding, and sex or lack thereof.

    During the middle portion of the camp, prospective dads practiced baby care skills under the guidance of veteran dads who had brought their babies.

    Lloyd Grey, 45, is a father for the first time. Although his 10-month-old daughter lives out of state, he said he wanted to learn parenting techniques and be involved in her life when she visited.

    He had the chance to prove he has what it takes when he changed the diaper of a crying, kicking 8-month-old Lauren, brought by her veteran dad, Richard Jones of St. Petersburg.

    Afterward, with a few beads of sweat lingering on his forehead, Grey called the episode an awesome experience.

    "I was very hesitant. I didn't want to do it," he said. "But she pulled me in. My job was to make her more comfortable, and I did it. The whole thing gave me confidence in my abilities, and I'm not going to worry."

    At one point, a rookie dad holding a baby boy stuck a finger in a diaper and learned that it was dirty.

    "You don't want to do that," instructed veteran dad Jason Aquilar of Clearwater, who had brought his three-month old twin boys, Jonathan and Daniel.

    "It's strictly peek and sniff."

    One of the coaches, Bill Weller, 30, of Largo, said the pen would be one of Dad's most important tools.

    "You need to fill out the all the product registration forms so you'll be notified if there are recalls," he said.

    He discussed sudden infant death syndrome and shaken baby syndrome. He advised dads who can't quiet a baby to "set the baby down, count to 10, take a breath or hand the baby to Mom."

    Weller reviewed other challenges and added, "The toughest part about being a dad is having to leave that little baby and go to work."

    When it was over, 34-year-old Harry Portellos of Clearwater, who has a baby due in October, said it was great having real babies at the boot camp.

    "I'm not as scared as I was before," he said.

    Nelson Brandt, a 31-year-old pilot from Clearwater, said he learned some valuable techniques, including rubbing a baby's eyebrows to relax him.

    "I could have read a book. I could have learned the hard way, but learning from a bunch of other dads is definitely the best way," he said.

    For more information

    The workshop fee is $25. Boot camps are scheduled for Sept. 21, Oct. 19, Nov. 23 and Dec. 14. For information or to register, call (727) 462-7000.

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