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Boot Camp for Dads packs a message

February 27, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - First-time expectant fathers get together with experienced dads and their babies in an innovative new program that helps to prevent child abuse and increase father-child bonding, according to Carol Ann Baran, program coordinator for the Rhonda Brake Shreiner Women's Center.

Boot Camp for Dads was started by a father in California who needed support, then came up with the curriculum, she said. The U.S. military, as well as hospitals around the country, use the program, she said.

Baran said she found out about Boot Camp for Dads on the Internet and helped to start the local group, which meets monthly at Summit Health in Chambersburg.

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Chip Piper, 34, of East Waterford, Pa. facilitates the group. He and his wife, Kara, have two children, and are expecting another. He is a human development and family studies major at Penn State Mont Alto (Pa.).

"Veteran dads share what they've learned about parenting with the rookie dads," Piper said. "The role model dads said they learned from the class also."

Piper starts out by having participants list the traits they liked and disliked in their own fathers. "We want to catch the bad traits and emphasize the good," he said.

Using dolls, they practice holding and burping a baby, and changing diapers.

"Some are all thumbs, some are pretty good," Piper said. "They find it nice to do this without being judged or having a wife, mother, or mother-in-law watching."

Piper gives safety tips concerning pets and the baby, and cautions the rookie dads about household hazards such as buckets and toilet bowls.

He encourages the men to make a "game plan" with their wives about events surrounding the birth.

To some men, the expected baby doesn't seem real, Piper said. "I tell them, 'It's going to be tangible. You're going to be a parent. Your life will change."

The classes, which are also for first-time adoptive fathers, give men a safe place to vent their fears about parenthood.

"No females are allowed," Baran said, "because then the guys' barriers would go up. This is Dads' night."

Piper agrees. "Guys will show no weakness (in front of women). But they will with other guys. The veteran fathers admit they were scared, then the rookies open up and admit their fears. They are not thought less of for doing this."

To educate rookie dads about shaken baby syndrome, Piper paces around with a doll.

"It's the middle of the night. The baby is crying. You've been through the checklist: Does it have gas? Is it hungry? Is the diaper dirty? So why is it crying?"

He rocks and walks the baby, voicing thoughts a father may have. "It's 4 a.m., I have to get up in an hour to go to work."

"Now, with that, the focus has shifted from the baby to me," Piper instructs. "This shows the transition between it being about the baby, and being about me. That tidbit of advice can prevent child abuse."

Piper walks the "baby" some more. "Be quiet, I'm losing sleep, shut up!"

Then he shakes the doll, and at the same time shakes an egg in a plastic container with the same force.

He opens the container and says, "Right there is the inside of your baby's head. The baby could go to sleep and not wake up, or it could have a slow bleed or a bruise. This can happen. One hard shake can cause permanent brain damage or death.

"You will reach this point," he continues. "You will be feeling anger. Put the baby down in a safe place and walk away, calm down, and think through the scenario. Walk it off, take little breaths."

Piper encourages dads to work in partnership with their wives. "Child raising is a team effort. Both sides of your families will tell you how to be a parent. You and your wife stay as a team," he said.

To register for Boot Camp for Dads, call Carol Baran at 717-217-6747 one to three months before the baby is due. Classes are held on the fourth Thursday of each month, and cost $10 for a two-hour session.

The national group's Web site is www.newdads.com

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