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Parenting classes help new dads ease into the transition

Jake Lindberg of Duluth plays with his 10-month-old son, Theodore, during a class for new dads at Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth recently. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 7
Josh and Jamie Howie of Superior prepare items in the nursery of their home recently. The two are expecting twins this summer. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 7
Ryan Tischer of Duluth attends a class for new dads at Essentia Health. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 7
Nick Garramone of Duluth leads a class for new dads at Essentia Health in Duluth recently. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 7
A sign on the door welcomes fathers-to-be to a class for new dads. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 7
Kris Robin of Duluth participates during a class for new dads at Essentia Health in Duluth recently. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com6 / 7
Josh and Jamie Howie of Superior are expecting twins this summer. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com7 / 7

Jamie Howie’s dad joked that she was having triplets. One week later, an ultrasound confirmed he was wrong, but not by much.

The Howies are expecting identical twin girls in July. While their babies were the size of a coconut in early June, during that doctor’s appointment, they looked like lima beans, recalled dad-to-be Josh Howie.

“My grin wouldn’t go away, but I was just sweating,” he said.

While Jamie Howie’s first worry was about day care — she’s an accountant — a dream about the girls woke Josh Howie up at 3 a.m. “I could pick one up, and I’d have to say ‘Oh, I’ll get to you in a little bit.’ And that one grew up to hate me because I couldn’t hold them at the same time.”

In their nursery, though, is a dark gray chair with big, fluffy arm rests. Before buying it, they sat down and pretended to hold their daughters at the same time, he recalled.  

Howie is one of the men who participated in recent expectant fathers classes offered at local hospitals.

“It’s not textbook, it’s not videos, it’s real life,” said Jan Slattery, prenatal education coordinator at Essentia Health.

Dads classes coincide with breastfeeding groups, and some of the topics covered are holding, changing, feeding, adjusting to parenthood, and strategies for comforting. While she doesn’t attend, Slattery is in charge of organizing, and the emphasis is on dads learning from dads, she said.

With that, there are infants present.

“If one of these babies poops or pukes, it’s on display,” said Nick Garramone. While he’s been facilitating for a couple of years, Garramone started in class as a fly on the wall.

“I remember coming, feeling extremely nervous, not knowing what to expect. You don’t want to break your child. … All these thoughts and fears and anxieties. It was really comforting for me to go through the class and see that other people are thinking and feeling the same thing,” said the soon-to-be father of three.

Among the first nuggets of info he saved were referrals for a baby monitor and a “booger sucker” (baby aspirator). “It’s the best thing in the world, it clears them up, and if they’re comfortable, you’re comfortable,” he said.

Kris Robin and Ryan Tischer were drop-ins recently, and both are expecting their first babies: Robin, a son due July 25; Tischer, a daughter due Sept. 18.

Outside class, one of the books Tischer has read explains how to construct a makeshift diaper out of a dishrag, an old sock and duct tape. “Not a bad trick to have up your sleeve,” he said.

One nugget that has stuck out in Robin’s research so far is not to be startled when you change your newborn’s diaper. “You’re going to see a pretty dark color. It’s called meconium; it’s really like tar-looking poop,” he said.

“I remember reading that, too,” Tischer said.

Robin said he feels good about becoming a father, but he’s always open to learning more. Tischer said he was confident he’d hear something new.  

The men sat in a large circle. Baby Ingrid used her father Zach Via’s thumb as a teething ring/harmonica. Theodore Lindberg, 10 months, bounced on his father Jake’s knee. Men shared their names, due dates, birthing stories and plans among the sounds of coos and rattles.

“Make sure to have those conversations about what to do if it doesn’t go as planned,” said Kyle Freundschuh. On pets, he added later: “Have a blanket, so the pets can get used to the smell (of the baby).”

And there was no empathy belly suit like there used to be. Parts of it wore out, and it was never replaced, Slattery said.

Garramone’s goal is to get fathers comfortable to share their worries and to engage. If there’s a lull, he’ll ask about nursing, gadgets; the topics are endless. The discussions give dads confidence, he said.

Jake Lindberg of Duluth is a repeat attender. Knowledge-sharing activities are key, he said.

One useful tip he gained from a previous class was to have the kids play in a kiddie pool with their toys. “It all gets added into the toolbox of things that I learned,” he said.

Having Lindberg attend class “made me feel closer to my husband,” said Cassy Lindberg by email. “It helped open the conversation for us to address our birth plan and parenting styles.”

She has attended new-parent and breastfeeding classes, and is now in a moms group at her job.

Lindberg is proud of being a husband and father, she said. “He shares pictures of us with everyone.”

Among the tidbits Jake Lindberg said he has learned: “Always be patient and realize your kids are not doing anything to irritate you. They’re learning how the world works, and they only communicate through screaming and crying. Because they’re crying doesn’t mean everything’s horrible. It just means they might not like what’s currently going on.”

At St. Luke’s in late May, several men gathered around a conference table for their Dads to Be class. “This isn’t a subject that many guys go out and talk to their guy friends about,” said co-facilitator Eric Barto.

“With my surrounding friends and guys I know, there’s this hesitation and fear of having kids, so there’s really no one to talk to. … It’s comforting and inspiring to know there’s other people that are around and experiencing the same thing,” said Dakota Trumball of Duluth.

Trumball is expecting a girl on July 29. Of the nursery, he said, “We don’t have a lot of options, so the room will be shared with us.” He reported that his wife was doing well and still energetic. “She chased me down the hall because my shirt was tucked halfway in,” he said with a laugh.

Ryan Stauber isn’t nervous about the baby’s delivery, he said. “I work at 911, so I actually coach people through giving birth, but the idea of being a dad is just a little bit scary in its own right.  It’s a brand-new experience. … This is a tiny human that I helped create and that I’m going to shape for the next generation.”

Stauber and his wife were expecting their daughter in early June. Before that, they used their daughter’s name around the house, but they weren’t sharing it with friends or family.

“People will try and trick you,” he warned the class.

Josh Howie said he’s experienced that. While his wife is making onesies with their twins’ names on them, “We’re not sharing,” he said.

Back in their Superior home, Jamie Howie gave a pregnancy update.

“I’m not sick, no cravings.”

“Chocolate milk,” added Josh.

After their babies arrive, the couple will take three months off together. “Thankfully, Josh has enough vacation time. … We’ll both be able to help each other,” she said.

Josh Howie said he’s thankful for expectant father classes, and the examples he’s had in his life in his grandfathers; father-in-law, Randy; and his own dad, Tammany.

“Figuring out what kind of dad I want to be, I don’t have to look very far,” he said. “Every generation is supposed to try to be better than their parents, but I don’t have to. I was taught very well.”

If you go

What: St. Luke's Dads to Be

When: 6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 23., Nov. 29

Where: 3 East Conference Room, St. Luke's Hospital

Cost: Free

To register, visit

What: Essentia Health Basic Training for New Dads

When: 7-9:30 p.m. Aug. 14, Oct. 9, Dec. 4

Where: Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center

Cost: Free

To register, visit

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

(218) 723-5346