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New dad classes offer lessons in the first year of life

When Danny Singley became a father, he learned there are virtually no classes for new dads - so he developed his own.

Singley, a licensed psychologist, teaches Basic Training for New Dads monthly at Scripps Mende Well-Being at University Towne Center. It is a two-part workshop exclusively for fathers of newborns and children up to 12 months of age.

“This is an opportunity to meet with other dads who are in pretty much the same situation,” Singley said. “To talk to them about their experience, to talk to them about some pointers and resources.”

After the birth of his first son five years ago, Singley became frustrated by the lack of resources for new fathers. He attended playgroups with his wife hoping to connect with other men but ended up feeling like a party crasher.

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That wasn’t the first time Singley felt there was little attention paid to men’s issues. Even in his gender psychology classes, most of the discussion centered around women. When he began practicing, he learned that, in general, men are skeptical of parenting classes and counseling.

Eventually Singley connected with Jeff Jones, a fellow San Diego psychologist and instructor for a dads-to-be class. In Jones’ class, expectant fathers prepare for birth by hearing from other men who have recently become fathers. The dynamics of men exchanging firsthand experience is a crucial element of the program’s success, and one Singley thought could be applied to a course on parenting.

Now a father of two boys and a researcher at UCSD’s Psychological and Counseling Services and at the La Jolla Veterans Association Hospital, Singley committed himself to creating a parenting venue just for dads.

In November 2006, he applied for and received an $18,000 grant from the First Five Foundation. He developed the program as a hybrid of his own experience, Jones’ format and feedback from seasoned fathers on what had been helpful to them and what they felt was missing.

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The first session of Basic Training for New Dads was held in March. Each session consists of two classes.

The first is just for dads. They hit the ground running; after introductions and a brief overview, the men talk about their own issues and concerns.

“We talk about what’s relevant and what’s really in the room for the dads,” Singley said. “ ‘How do I work on establishing boundaries?’ ‘I’m irritable.’ ‘We divorced before the baby was born and how do I handle that?’ ”

The second class is held on a Saturday, and the fathers attend with their children. Singley, who brings his own infant son, calls it The Dads’ Lab.

To jumpstart the momentum, Singley addresses child development and games dads can play with their kids that correspond to each milestone. He sometimes invites a Scripps therapist who specializes in infant massage to show dads how to touch their babies.

“It’s safe for guys because we aren’t talking about their feelings, but about what to do,” Singley said. “It’s another sneaky way dads are learning something to do, and doing is a way to be involved with their kids.”

Whether demonstrating how to swaddle a baby via the “burrito wrap” or sharing concerns about providing for their families, modeling behavior is the key element Singley uses to build confidence in his class participants .

“Dads aren’t necessarily set up to have people around them saying, ‘I think you can do this, I think you can be a good dad,’ ” Singley said. “Confidence comes from [knowing], ‘I’m alone with my baby, I’m doing it alone without mom.’ It’s modeling - seeing other dads and having them see you. The dad recognizes, ‘I’m here, I’m doing it, I’m fathering.’ And there’s the validation.”

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Launching the class is Singley’s way of challenging what he sees as societal prejudice: Men don’t typically seek education on how to be dads, and women don’t typically set up their spouses to be hands-on caregivers.

Research clearly demonstrates not only the importance of a strong father-child relationship, but also that fathers teach different skills to children. One example is the difference in how fathers play with children. The concentrated, frenetic, intense burst of play teaches children how to regulate variable levels of mood and excitement.

“This is one factor that when they’re little can give them experience in managing those highs and lows,” Singley said.

A lot of thought went into how to structure the class to make it guy-friendly, from the timing of the sessions to marketing it and how the sessions were set up. More than anything, Singley wants new fathers to know there is a community resource just for them.

“One of the big points of the class is to give dads learning experiences in the class to stay involved with their kids and their families,” he said. “And that’s the punch line: stay involved. Fathers that stay involved, their children and their families have better outcomes. And, it can be pretty fun.”

For more information about Basic Training for New Dads, visit www.newdadsclass.com or call (858) 344-4698.