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F-M dads-to-be can take classes designed just for them

Ben Jensen, who teaches fathers-to-be at Sanford Health in Fargo, poses with his wife Lisa and daughter Julia, 1. Photo credit: special to The Forum.1 / 4
Ben Hanson, who took a class for fathers-to-be at Essentia Health in Fargo, poses with his wife Emily Coler-Hanson and son Macklin, 10 months. Photo credit: special to The Forum.2 / 4
Zach Liebel, who teaches fathers-to-be at Essentia Health in Fargo, poses with his wife Mary and children, from left, Reuben, 5 1/2, Dinah, 6 months, and Judah, 3. Photo credit: special to The Forum.3 / 4
Mike Jensen of Sanford Health demonstrates his diaper changing techniques at the Sanford Moorhead Clinic.David Samson / The Forum4 / 4

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- For two hours a month, Mike Jensen said he stands up in front of a group of dads-to-be at the Sanford Health clinic here and talks about all the dumb things he's done so far as a dad.

It began at delivery, he said. "That's where the majority of my bad examples start."

When he was supposed to be helping his wife, Lisa, he was texting her sister with updates about labor, he said. "My wife finally yelled at me: 'Put the phone away!'"

When he changed his daughter Julia's diapers, he got his hands covered in poop, he said.

When she cried inconsolably, as babies do, he tried reasoning with her as he prepped her bottle — "'I'm getting you this stuff ready. Calm down and we'll be fine.'" — but she wouldn't listen, as babies don't, and it drove him nuts.

A big guy who punctuates his sentences with jolly chuckling, Jensen is no comedian. He's one of a couple of men teaching fatherhood classes in Fargo-Moorhead.

The self-deprecation, he said, is his way of putting men who may never have held a baby or changed a diaper in their life at ease. "It can be a little overwhelming. My job is just to inform them of these situations and to let them know I've been through it, survived it," he said.

Zach Liebel, the teacher at Essentia Health, uses his experience as the dad of Reuben, Judah and Dinah in his class. He tells dads-to-be that he, like them, is addicted to his smartphone, but they need to remember to stay engaged their children. "My personal favorite memories with my dad is when we did stuff together — riding bikes or working on the car, things like that that stick out the most — not necessarily the gifts he gave me."

For these guys, Father's Day happens every month of the year as they remind others and themselves what it means to be a father

Focus on fathers

Dads-to-be didn't always have classes designed just for them.

Two or three generations ago, they weren't very welcome in the delivery room, said Janelle Brandon, supervisor of women's community education at Sanford. In the 1970s, Lamaze classes brought dads into the picture as moms' helpers during birth. Education for parents gradually became more inclusive and, today, there are classes tailored for all members of the family, such as other children and dads, from pregnancy through childhood.

In Fargo-Moorhead, Essentia Health has offered classes for a few years and Sanford Health began last year. Class curriculum covers, within a couple of hours, everything from how to help mothers during labor to how to change diapers. Dads-to-be are also reminded to nurture relationships with their children and their partners.

Learning from dad

When Liebel and Jensen first started teaching, Liebel in 2013 and Jensen in 2015, they were new to fatherhood themselves. But they drew on what experience they had being dads as well as being sons to bring life to the curriculum they were given.

Growing up in Williston, N.D., one of Liebel's fondest memories was working the kitchen during "bus rush" at the Hardee's his dad managed. That's whenever the restaurant was swamped by a bus full of hungry high school athletes.

"We lived a couple of blocks from Hardee's and I was probably in sixth grade or something and he'd go 'Oh, we got a bus rush,' and he'd take me up there," Liebel said. "I'd get to toast the buns. It's something basic, just to help. He was including me and that was huge."

Jensen, sadly, didn't have many of those moments.

The family's circumstances were humble when he grew up in Blaine, Minn., and he remembers his parents working overtime and overnight shifts to provide for their children. "My dad was awesome — we never wanted for anything — but there was that personal relationship that was missing."

He said he tells his students, "Your goal as a father is to be your daughter's favorite, your son's favorite. Your goal is to be who they want to be around. No offenses to mothers."

When he left for work one day and Julia clung to him, crying, he said he felt a guilty thrill. Guilty because he's leaving his wife with a crying baby, he said, thrilled because "Yeah! She misses me!"

Lessons reinforced

Mothers-to-be are often told about childbirth classes and that's usually how dads-to-be learn about fatherhood classes. But Jensen and Liebel said their students are eager to learn, even if the class wasn't their idea.

It's amazing to see how men who look like they'd shy away from changing diapers become enraptured by his demonstrations, Liebel said. "It's like 'Wow, they're really watching me. I've gotta make sure I'm explaining this correctly.'"

"I found a lot of guys kind of feel worthless when it comes to those first three, four months, even up to a year when the mom is breastfeeding," Jensen said. "So they're worried they're just going to sit there and can't help the mom. I have found a lot more compassionate guys than I thought."

Before Ben Hanson, a freelance writer and blogger at MrFullTimeDad.com, had his son Macklin, he said he already had some experience with babies in his extended family, including changing diapers. "For me the class was about helping me mentally come to the full realization that this is happening, I'm going to be dad, we're going to have a baby," he said of taking Liebel's class.

Liebel said teaching is good for him as a dad, too, because it reminds him to practice what he preaches, especially when it comes to putting the smartphone down.

Jensen said the class is a chance for him to reminisce about how his daughter entered his life. "I like it because it lets me talk about Julia from her birth. My wife gets kind of mad because she loses some of these memories. Every month, I get to go over them again and refresh my memory. I get to think about Julia from zero to six months again. These memories will last longer because I go over them every month."

On the Web: To sign up for Essentia Health classes, go to www.essentiahealth.org/main/Classes.aspx. The next Basic Training For New Dads class in Fargo is July 12. To sign up for Sanford Health classes, go to www.sanfordhealth.org/classes-and-events. The next New Dad's Playbook class in Moorhead is June 28.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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