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Senior Master Sgt. Lefford Fate instructs a class Thursday for men who are new fathers or soon will be new fathers at RAF Lakenheath, England.
Senior Master Sgt. Lefford Fate instructs a class Thursday for men who are new fathers or soon will be new fathers at RAF Lakenheath, England. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

RAF LAKENHEATH, England — The tape recording of the baby’s woeful wailing lasted three minutes, long enough to make the new and soon-to-be dads in the room a bit squeamish.

“Imagine three hours of that,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lefford Fate, who was teaching the class Dads 101 at RAF Lakenheath, England.

As a veteran father, he was the voice of experience, sharing his acquired wisdom, such as when he cautioned his attentive charges not to make jokes about coming from work and mollifying an unhappy baby.

“We get a 12-hour break,” he said, referring to the workday. “Mom is there all day with the baby. That can hurt [her] feelings if you make snide comments. Sometimes the baby just wants a new toy. And that’s you, Dad.”

The point of the class is to reach men who are new or soon-to-be fathers.

It is part of the base’s New Parents Support Program, which had been targeted toward mothers only or couples. The fathers said they wanted something just for them, said Maj. Nadine Griffin, family advocacy officer.

“More and more, fathers are taking a lead role in their child’s life,” she said.

The curriculum for Dads 101 comes from the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. It addresses everything from gender stereotypes to packing a diaper bag, from bathing a baby to caring for one that won’t stop crying.

The class, which finished its first series of three sessions on Thursday, attracted more interest than anticipated.

“We have a waiting list,” said Shannon Hurd, family advocacy program assistant.

Teachers also weren’t hard to find. The base is full of them.

“Who better to teach fathers than veteran fathers,” said Griffin.

One of the instructors, Tech Sgt. Fred Henley, opened the recent session.

“Showing up here today shows you are really serious about being good fathers,” he said. Henley is the father of two teenagers and said he joined the fraternity of fatherhood with little to go on but common sense and crossed fingers.

“At that time, nothing was available,” he said in an interview. “There was no education, no information that pertained to fathers.”

Now, Henley and the others are able to draw on their own experiences as well as the material provided for the class. Inside the classroom, Fate talked about why a baby cries.

“Their crying is made to get our attention,” he said. “And it does.”

Even now, years later, he said, the sound of a crying baby will awaken in him an instinct to jump to the rescue.

The students said the class is worthwhile.

“Of all the birthing classes and getting-ready classes we’ve taken, this is the best one,” said Capt. Jason Delamater, whose wife is due to give birth to their first child in March. “The nurses are great. They’re experts. But there are some things you can’t learn from a nurse. [The fathers] have credibility. They’ve been there.”

Airman 1st Class Michael Keller has two children, ages 8 months and 2 years, and has no plans for more. But he attended the class anyway, hoping to pick up a pointer or two.

He said the class would have helped him before he first became a father.

“Yes, definitely,” he said. “I recommend it to all new dads. It’ll prepare them for things to come.”

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