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Baby Boot Camp

Allen Farber, of Skokie, IL, sprang into action as soon as Hannah demanded attention. He dropped to his knees, grabbed a rattle, and started playing with the 5-month-old while her dad, Billy Kaplan, talked about the ups and downs of parenting.

Hannah was a "teacher," and Farber one of her star students at Boot Camp for New Dads at St. Francis Hospital, in Evanston, IL. Like Farber, thousands of expectant fathers throughout the country are heading to these programs to prepare for papahood, learning the ropes from veteran dads, like Kaplan, and their babies.

Greg Bishop, father of four, started the first Boot Camp eight years ago in Irvine, CA, after watching his friends struggle during the early months of fatherhood. Topics range from how to calm a crying infant to keeping a marriage afloat when both partners are too tired to complete a sentence. Some typical Boot Camp advice includes asking a hospital nurse to show you how to swaddle and diaper your newborn so you can bond with her from the start, plus give your partner a rest.

Besides teaching skills, the Boot Camps also do much to assuage expectant dads' anxiety. "I don't think I'd ever held a child that young," said Bill Darner, of Skokie, after cuddling a 4-month-old at one of the Boot Camps. "It made me feel less fearful about parenting."

So far, 51 hospitals in 27 states host Boot Camps, typically one two- or three-hour session. Fees range from free to $25, depending on the hospital. To find one near you, visit the Boot Camp website at www.newdads.com.

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