About three years ago, I started helping with a class for expectant dads. Taught by veteran dads, the format allows men to ask all the questions they have on their minds in a comfortable setting. In preparing for the parenting class, I learned that there are classes for couples, for moms, and even classes for grandparents – but none just for fathers-to-be. I also learned that Richmond has one of the highest absent-dad rates in Virginia.
I have been the lead facilitator for many classes, and I can truly say that most of the dads I meet are nervous and even a little scared they are going to do something wrong. They are worried about being good fathers. But as one of the veteran dads in the group says: “Parenthood is scary, and you are going to make mistakes. The good dads learn from their mistakes, and don’t make them again. The fact that you are here makes you a good dad.” Making this clear from the beginning lets the new dads sit back and relax as we reassure them of something that all of us parents already know: Indeed, there are no perfect parents.
After watching dads go through this class, I have heard all kinds of things about parenting concerns and expectations. These are some of the funniest and most valuable stories I can remember.
1. You think you’re ready?
One of the best learning moments I ever witnessed was when a veteran dad started out the class with a few questions. The first was, “How many of you have the nursery painted?” A lot of the dads raised their hands feeling they had one step done. The next question was, “How many have your cribs assembled?” Fewer dads raised their hands. The last question was, “How many of you already have the sheets on the mattress and the cover on the changing table?” This time, only two dads proudly raised their hands showing they were prepared. Then the instructor said, “Don’t you know that by the time your baby comes, those sheets will have dust on them and you’ll have to wash them?” The smiles on those dads faces dissolved quickly. The instructor ended up saying that no matter how prepared you think you are, you will still have a lot to learn – and that’s okay. I have started all of my classes like this ever since. I learned how to be a better teacher that day!
2. Get the scoop on poop.
This is one of the sections in the class training manual, and the stories that come from teaching about this experience are hilarious. My favorite was when a veteran dad was talking about how poop can defy the law of gravity. He told of how it went up the baby’s back, completely ruined the baby’s outfit, and got into his baby’s hair. “Poop was everywhere!” he said while laughing. And that’s when a new dad ran out of the room with his hands over his mouth. Without missing a beat, the veteran dad looked at the other dads in the class and said, “That guy must have had a little diarrhea of the mouth!” Well played Dad, well played.
3. Boys get that, too?
For each class, there is a dad who brings his 2- to 10-month-old child into the class. The dads get to hold the baby, learn tricks to make the baby stop crying, and have the opportunity to help change a diaper (only one guy has ever volunteered for this since I have been doing it!). One class, the veteran dad was changing a baby girl’s diaper, and when the dad pulled off the diaper, one of the new dads yelled, “What’s wrong with her?” covering his eyes and mouth. The veteran dad calmly told the rookie that the baby had a yeast infection, told him how to treat it, and put on the cream. The new dad went on to say, “Thank goodness I am having a boy, and he can’t get those.” The look on the new dad’s face went from relief to surprise when the veteran dad shared that boy babies also get yeast infections. It was priceless.
4. Put two in the trunk.
Everyone always tells you to pack a change of clothes for the baby in case she has an accident. One facilitator dad dropped some knowledge on the new dads that was simple, but very helpful. He told them to take two nice shirts that go with everything to the cleaners and have them dry-cleaned and put into boxes. He then told them to put them in the trunk of the car. It seems he learned this lesson the hard way! At a party one night, his baby leaked through her outfit and all over the side of him. He had two options, leave the party, or walk around wearing a stinky, pee-stained shirt. He went home that night, and put two shirts in his trunk and never missed a party again. Genius-level move. (P.S. The clean shirts don’t have to be dry-cleaned and in boxes, of course. A gym bag with clean shirts works
just as well.)
5. How long should we wait?
We always get the question that is on the mind of many new dads, “When can we get intimate again?” When one dad asks this, it opens the floodgates to other questions because the new dads know that this is safe territory. There have been many answers to this question, but my all-time favorite was when a dad looked the new dads square in the eyes and said, “When she says it’s time – and don’t ask her, ever. Before children, when you had an extra ten minutes, you asked her. With kids, if you ever have an extra ten minutes, take a nap.” The room of guys just shook their heads as if they understood, and the class continued. Direct and to the point, no more questions about that.
6. Remember the most important relationship.
One of our more senior facilitator dads gave some of the best advice I’ve heard, so I continue to share it when I am heading up the class. He said, “The best gift you can give your children is loving their mom.” This is so true. Many couples today live in a child-centered relationship where the needs of the child are prioritized above everything. However, if our children see two people loving each other as well as loving them, it is showing the children how to care for others, putting someone before yourself, and giving them a great example to follow as they grow older. Now, I tell all the new dads in my class to always make time for the two of you because once the kids are grown up and gone, it will be just the two of you again.
Over the years, I have had dads come up to me and tell me they have taken the class and how it really prepared them for parenthood. The truth is, a very small number of men in Richmond have the opportunity to take a parenting class. My hope is that by writing this article, more new fathers will benefit from dads who have been there and done that. Even if you don’t take a class, I encourage all expectant dads to find any father, have a conversation, and ask a lot of questions. And as I stated earlier, there are no perfect parents, but there are a lot of perfectly good dads that are more than happy to help.