"This class is designed to answer any questions they might have in a setting that's comfortable," says boot camp instructor Mike Johnson. "In the end, we hope they feel a little more comfortable and confident when they leave."
Boot Camp for New Dads is part of the offerings from the New Fathers Foundation nonprofit organization. Classes are given in more than 40 states nationwide, including Maryland and Virginia, but not the District of Columbia.
The recent Annapolis class covered a wide range of topics, from how to install car seats to what happens to one's love life once baby arrives. But the best part, the soon-to-be-dads agree, was when the "veteran" boot camp dads arrived an hour into the class with their wee ones.
Enter: Tom Gough with 5-month-old Aidan and Jeremy Younts with 6-month-old Maggie.
The class split into two groups - Gough and Aidan heading one and Younts and Maggie heading the other - and started a give-and-take conversation about what it was like during those first few uncertain days with a newborn and the weeks and months that followed.
"My wife had a C-section so she couldn't even lift the baby," Gough says of the days after Aidan was born. "Everything was up to me, all the little details, all the logistics."
Gough, of Crofton, found out, for example, that a trip home from the hospital to change clothes and take care of the couple's three dogs was a logistical challenge.
"Just plan not to leave the hospital for a few days, especially if your wife has a C-section," he says.
To which the soon-to-be-dads respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look.
That look quickly fades as Gough passes around Aidan - dressed in jeans, black Nikes and a long-sleeved orange T-shirt - to the dads-to-be. Aidan is one of those happy babies who seems content no matter what he's doing and who holds him.
"I think you like me," says dad-to-be Luis Cabrera of Suitland while holding Aidan.
"He's really pretty easy," Gough says of his son. "He eats well, he sleeps through the night. ... Maybe our next one will be really difficult."
The discussion then turns more serious as the men discuss the ins and out of "baby blues" - a temporary moodiness that affects most women after baby is born.
Gough says his wife experienced baby blues initially.
"She didn't want to eat, she didn't want to do anything," he says. "I just kept telling her we're a team, we can do this together. ... I kind of gave her a pep talk."
The dads-to-be nod solemnly.
Johnson says they all should be aware of the signs of postpartum depression, which is much more serious than baby blues.
"If the symptoms of depression are severe and they don't go away after a few weeks, you need to seek medical help," he says.
On a lighter but also important note, the conversation turns to day care. All the men are from two-income households and are eager and dependent on finding good day care.
Gough says he has seen prices anywhere from $500 a month to $1,200 a month for full-time care. But more importantly, he says, no matter what center you go with, make sure you visit.
"You need to check them out," Gough says. "We went to a couple where they just stick the babies in a crib and that's where they stay all day. That's obviously not what we wanted," he says.
The men then discuss time management (add at least a half-hour to any outing with baby), prices and recommendations on formula (get coupons and count on about a dollar an ounce) and offers from friends and family to help (take them up on it!).
Finally, they talk about life after baby. What happens to spontaneity and romance?
Offers one of the veteran dads on romance: "To me it was a real downer. It definitely happens less frequently."
Says the other: "You have to use your imagination and you have to be fast about it. ... You don't know if the baby is going to nap for 20 minutes or three hours."
The guys nod, but it's impossible to know what they're really thinking. As if they need a little nudge over that "What? My relationship with my wife will never be the same?" hump, Johnson offers: "We've talked about losing sleep, how the romance is gone. But having a baby is priceless."
De Ronde can't yet speak to that, but he can speak to the quality of the class: "It was great to ask so many questions and get so many answers," says de Ronde who scribbled down notes throughout the three-hour class.
"But the best part I guess is to see how happy they look. ... They look like they're having fun."