A month before my son was born, I reluctantly signed up for a class that was being offered through our local hospital.
I’d heard about Daddy Boot Camp: Training New Dads being offered in other venues, and the doc we had chosen to be our son’s pediatrician was leading the session, but I wasn’t convinced I needed it.
Don’t get me wrong, I was eager to learn about being a dad. When the kid hit the ground, I was ready to do the running.
But I wanted to learn by doing.
What, I wondered, could a few hours of chit-chat over donuts and coffee teach me?
So I went because I liked the doc, and when I considered skipping out, I felt guilty.
Walking into the Saturday morning classroom, nothing surprised me.
The center of the upscale carpeted meeting room was filled with more than a dozen folding chairs arranged in a circle. Five or six young guys (much younger than me) were already in attendance. Two long tables against the far wall offered a big hospital coffee urn, a couple dozen styrofoam cups, and three boxes of assorted pastries.
Standing in the center of the circle of chairs, the doc welcomed me in. “Have a donut,” he said. “Grab a cup of coffee.”
Before long we had a class of 18 or 19 guys.
I was the second oldest fellow there, and the oldest first time dad. I know this because my gray haired elder informed all of us that he was building his “second family” and that this was just a “20 year refresher.”
He reminded us of this fact every ten minutes or so.
And he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stop talking about himself.
In fact, my biggest discovery of the first half hour was just how much these guys wanted to be noticed. To be appreciated.
Most of them didn’t say so in so many words, but it was clear that in the family adventure ahead, they’d been playing second string to their wives and girlfriends, most of them doing his best to be supportive, but also yearning to be included.
They also had questions.
Do I need to be careful about exposing the kid to certain movies or TV shows? (Yes)
Can we still go out at night? (Occasionally)
Will I have to give up video game time? (Probably)
But my life’s not really gonna change much, right? (Face palm!)
During the course of the conversation, and during my second donut, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before.
Sitting on the floor behind the doc’s computer case was a sealed plexiglass cube with an egg inside.
We’d handled several props during the course of the morning, including a pumpkin seat, anatomically correct dolls to diaper, and various powder and lotion products.
But when the doc picked up the plexiglass cube, I didn’t know what to expect.
“By now you’ve probably heard that it’s not good to shake a baby,'” he began.
We all nodded with the wisdom acquired from months of exposure to medical office posters and pamphlets.
“Never, never, never shake a baby.”
Okay. Got it.
The doc shook his head. “You really need to understand this,” he said, holding up the cube.
“Imagine that this case is your new baby’s skull. The egg inside is her brain.”
The doc started moving the cube gently through the air. “Babies like motion. They like to be rocked. Moving a baby like this isn’t a problem.”
“It’s when you do this,” and suddenly he jerked the cube abruptly back.
And the egg inside broke, leaking yellow all over.
And I think half of us in the audience nearly feinted.
“And that’s just how fast it can happen,” said the doc. “And the damage is not repairable.”
Just like that, I realized how much I had to learn.
I didn’t feel like Mr. Know-it-All anymore.
Watching this concrete example of an abstract concept play out in front of me made me think about other sayings and bromides that I’d only half-heartedly paid attention to.
Never let baby sleep on their stomach.
Never let baby eat peanuts.
The list goes on, but now, as the yolk drained out of that egg in front of us, every one of those instructions was written in BIG, BOLD LETTERS.
Now, almost two decades later, it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.