Boot Camp for New Dads teaches men how to be good fathers

New dad Andy Fowler brags that he can change a diaper with one hand, but he wasn't always this confident about his ability to take care of his 13-week old daughter, Juliet.

"I had no idea how to do anything," he said. About a month before his daughter was born, Fowler took Columbus Regional's Boot Camp for New Dads, a three-hour class offered several times a year that teaches soon-to-be dads practical skills like diapering and swaddling and also gives them a place to discuss their concerns and questions about fatherhood.

"It boosted my confidence more than anything else," he said.

The class is part of a national program and was added to Columbus Regional's lineup of pregnancy and childbirth classes a few years ago. Debi Miller, the operations coordinator for prenatal education at Columbus Regional, said the class is one way for expectant parents to educate themselves so they can prepare for the arrival of their child.

"We want to see the family adjust well," Miller said.

"Part of the reason is everything else is geared toward Mom," added Jeff Chardos, a father of four who teaches the class. "Dads get left out a lot."

Since the class is all men, Chardos said the boot camp is a safe space for men to talk.

"No women are allowed unless they're under eight months old," he joked.

Chardos said the men in the class come in with questions about a lot of practical things like changing diapers, sleeping with the baby, how to hold a newborn and how to help out and take care of their wives after the birth.

"I had always been told growing up to let them cry it out," Fowler said. "I learned when a newborn cries, it's for a reason."

Chardos teaches skills like swaddling and diapering using dolls, but sometimes veteran dads visit the class with their new babies. Fowler brought Juliet to one of Chardos' recent classes and let some of the fathers-to-be hold her.

"Some of them were extremely nervous," said Fowler, adding that one of his biggest fears before he was a father was holding a baby. "Once these guys held the baby, their entire demeanor changed. They were smiling and looking at her."

Chardos also talks to the dads-to-be about how their lives might change once their child is born. They'll spend a lot more time with family. They may gain or lose friends and they will definitely lose sleep, he said.

"You can't understand how much you'll love that baby until you have the baby," he said.

Fowler said the skills he learned in the class really helped when his wife had complications and he had to care for Juliet for the first couple days after her birth.

"I would recommend this class to anyone who wants to get educated and be prepared," he said.

Chardos said the men who give up three hours on a Saturday to attend the class are taking a step toward becoming a good father.

"Being a good father is about spending time with your child," he said. "It's never too early to start."

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469