published Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Baumgardner: Learning how to be a dad in boot camp

By Julie Baumgardner

Don McKenna attended Boot Camp for New Dads four years ago when he and his wife, Missy, were expecting.

"I saw a billboard about it and thought it looked interesting," says McKenna. "I convinced a friend who was also expecting his first child to go with me. It totally was not what I was expecting. Hands down, it was the best thing I could have done in preparation for becoming a father."

McKenna thought Boot Camp would be about how to change a diaper and feed his baby a bottle. Instead, what he encountered was a group of guys who were just as fearful as he was about becoming a father.

"The class was a relief for me," says McKenna. "First off, the class was taught by a guy. On top of that, we got to talk about our fears and concerns. Had we not done that, I think I would have been intimidated. Being more comfortable about caring for Brooks -- not feeling like I was going to break him if I held him -- gave me the best opportunity to bond with him from the moment he was born."

McKenna says the class gave him a better understanding of parenting styles and how to talk with his wife about his style being different, but not wrong.

"There were things I wanted to do with our son that made my wife nervous, like the time I wanted to take him as a 2-year-old for a ride on the tractor," says McKenna. "She was worried he would get hurt.

"Instead of telling her how stupid it was for her to be concerned, I took small steps showing her that I was just as concerned as she was for his safety. I put a helmet on him and we rode around very slowly. When she saw him giggling and having a good time, she relaxed a bit. I think I am definitely more patient with my wife and my child as a result of the class."

McKenna thought the Boot Camp experience was so worthwhile, he recruited six guys for the class and attended with them.

"Anytime I find out a couple-friend is expecting, one of the first things I tell the guy is, 'You really need to take this class,'" says McKenna. "It will give you great perspective on fathering and the importance of being involved in the life of your child."

The class didn't just help prepare McKenna for the role of parent. It also helped him in his marriage.

"It is important to me and Missy to raise Brooks in an environment that will help him thrive," says McKenna.

"One of the things I learned is our marriage can't take a back seat while we are raising our son. We have to be intentional about taking care of our relationship because that is what gives Brooks the stability, confidence and security he needs to grow and develop.

"Being a parent has been a humbling and amazing experience."

Looking back on the last four years, McKenna says he wouldn't trade the time he has had with his son and how they have grown as a family.

To learn more about Boot Camp for New Dads, visit firstthings.org

Contact Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org.

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