Even before celebrating his first Father's Day as a father, Can Emre Senkal found himself giving pointers to expectant fathers Saturday at the Medical University of South Carolina in the first "Boot Camp For New Dads" in the Charleston area.
Senkal, who brought his 6-month-old son, Emre Nicholas Senkal, to the three-hour crash course, volunteered for the program because of one simple fact: "Babies don't come with instruction manuals, and even if they did, guys don't read them," he said.
The 20-year-old program, which has received acclaim from national media sources, is basically a men's-only, hands-on workshop featuring dads and dads-to-be -- as well as infants who might be giggling, crying or pooping -- and acknowledges that the trainees are fathers of all kinds: married, unmarried, biological or not.
The importance is placed on learning to be a supportive father to benefit the entire family.
With grant funding from the Stafford Foundation, the MUSC Health Women & Infant Services division is offering six more workshops for free over the course of the next year.
Kimberly Harris-Eaton, a postpartum nurse manager who arranged the camp, said the division is "family centric" and that it's in the best interest of all involved that when a baby leaves the hospital a mother and a father are involved in its care. The workshop is an effort to ease anxieties of expectant fathers.
"We think it's something that the Lowcountry will benefit from," Harris-Eaton said.
Dink Nolen, a Boot Camp worker based in Charlotte, came to Charleston this weekend to train "Drool Sergeants" to lead a series of the local workshops in the coming year, the first one of which was Saturday. Nolen, who has two sons, is passionate about the course.
"Guys don't learn well by just sitting there and listening. They learn more by doing," said Nolen, who was dressed in camouflage shorts and high-top sneakers.
"This is the only prenatal class that has real babies in it because we guys didn't play with dolls when we were growing up. We played with action figures, and a baby is the ultimate action figure. When you change a diaper in here, it's a real diaper."
He said excluding women allows men to express certain fears including, "When am I going to be able to sleep again?" and "Am I ever going to have sex again?"
"Men are not going to ask those kinds of questions with women in the room," Nolen said.
Besides the basics of care, the S.C. Department of Social Services plans to be a part of the local Boot Camp, and a representative will underscore the importance of fathers establishing paternity at birth.
According to DSS outreach representative Tom Dalik, half of all the children born in South Carolina are to unmarried parents, and in those cases, the father's name is not automatically put on the birth certificate. The mother and father have to acknowledge paternity and put it on the birth certificate or a DNA test must be performed.
Not establishing paternity puts children at risk of not knowing their father's family medical history and of receiving no Social Security benefits in the event of the father's death.
For fathers, not establishing paternity leaves them with no rights to see the child and have no input on medical and educational decisions.
"Most of those guys who don't establish paternity are petrified at the idea of raising a child," Dalik said. "One of the things that keeps a dad away is that fear of 'can I be a dad?' To help them see they can is a rewarding experience for me as a father because it's a great adventure."
Saturday's inaugural Boot Camp was sparsely attended. Only one expectant dad, Joe Laposta, and two future workshop leaders showed up.
But Laposta -- whose wife teaches orthodontics in the dental school and is expecting to deliver Aug. 31 -- was all ears and was absorbing the advice like a sponge.
"It's better to be prepared than to run into this blind," said Laposta, an engineer with the military. "Whatever tools they can offer to make it easier I'll take."
Future Drool Sergeants Don Dalton and Rodney Covington, veteran fathers, mostly observed, but both came in an effort to advance the role of fathers.
"I know how it was when I was a child," recalled Dalton. "I didn't have a father figure to look to and, then, when I had my daughter, I raised her from several months old to five and a half years old by myself. I was a single parent. It was important to me to give my child what I didn't receive, but I still made mistakes."
Dalton likes the Boot Camp model because it "gives you the foundation on how to be a new father."
Covington, whose father died when he was 18 and who has three grown children, recalls how nervous he was becoming a new father and yet understands the importance of fathers getting involved when their children are infants.
"Mothers have the natural bond," said Covington. "Fathers have to create a bond. Once the baby arrives, that's our opportunity to bond."