September 14, 2004
When Ryan Padgitt was a young boy, his parents divorced, leaving him without a constant father figure to teach him about manhood or fatherhood.
Padgitt wants something more for his child.
"I’m really looking forward to (fatherhood). Hopefully we will be able to take part in lots of different activities that I didn’t have the chance to," says the Tempe dad-to-be. "I’d really like to be an active part of the child’s youth and development."
In early November, Padgitt will get that chance when his wife, Traci Canfield, gives birth to their first child. He’s certainly is not alone in his quest to be a super dad without a super role model.
Kathleen Dowler, coordinator of maternal child health and community education outreach at Chandler Regional Hospital, says that fathers are getting better at changing the old-school image of just bringing home the paycheck while mom does everything else.
"We have to break those stereotypes and dad has to be OK with that," Dowler says.
Many are; they just don’t know where to begin.
When it comes to raising kids, moms have generations of parenting models and archives of advice while the modern dad is at a loss for information. Most of all, men are worried they’ll simply mess it all up.
"We can go out and wash the car and we can go out and cut the grass and we can go to the Home Depot and ask the questions," says Scott Krell, a Phoenix father of two. "But we don’t know what we don’t know about babies and it’s so alien to us that we don’t even know where to start."
Today Krell is an active parent, often on the forefront for fathers’ rights in his community. That role was something he learned from other fathers he met in Daddy Boot Camp at Scottsdale Healthcare, a three-hour class designed to teach men everything from holding a baby to dealing with changes in their marriage — issues most new dads face. Chandler Regional also offers Daddy Boot Camp.
"I was afraid that I wouldn’t do the right things," Krell says of his reaction to hearing his wife was pregnant with their first daughter, Rachell, now 4. "I didn’t know what I didn’t know."
He says there was "nothing out there" when it came to resources for first-time dads. Bookstore shelves are packed with materials for new moms that deal with breast-feeding, burping and growing bigger, while expectant fathers have just a handful of books to browse.
And men don’t generally share baby tips on the golf course or at work.
But even if they don’t talk about it, expectant fathers are most concerned with the basics — feeding and burping, holding and bathing. Most are also clueless about what to do when the late-night wailing begins — getting up in the middle if the night is not a mothers-only task anymore.
"Babies are very small and dads are not used to dealing with little ones like that, even if they are good with kids," says Missy Beauchamp, who teaches a Baby Your Baby class at Chandler Regional. "In general most people are awed and scared."
At a class held last Wednesday night, all the pregnant moms were accompanied by dads as they learned how to take an infant’s temperature and to suck the mucus from the baby’s throat, showing that active fathering begins before the baby is born. Beauchamp says this is very common today, and men even attend her breast-feeding classes, although reluctantly. To help expectant fathers ease their fears, Beauchamp recommends they get involved in classes.
Padgitt’s wife signed him up for Daddy Boot Camp in Chandler. Krell’s wife enrolled him in the class at Scottsdale Healthcare four years ago. It was in that class, taught by other men, where he learned to navigate the unknown waters of fatherhood. The class offers discussions about fatherhood, parenting and new family relationships as well as hands-on activities with a genuine "baby simulator" — not a doll — that expectant dads hold, swaddle and bathe. Knowing these basic skills, says Krell, made him a better father because he wasn’t so afraid of the babies.
Since graduating from the program, Krell has become an instructor for Scottsdale Healthcare. Affectionately known as The Big Bald Guy, Krell helps other men learn to deal with issues from feeding the new baby to the changes they’ll face in their relationships with their partners. He’s written a book, "The Big Bald Guy’s Guide for New Dads" (NuTek Publishing) due out around the holidays.
The idea behind the book, and having male boot camp instructors, is that men tend to take advice better from other men. They then form an unofficial network of new dads that many continue using through the course of fatherhood, sharing anecdotes and tips and acting as a resource men have never really had before.
For Traci Canfield, that experience alone convinced her that Padgitt should take the class.
"It’s important because he can talk to other guys about how much help I’m going to need around the house," she said.