Matt Kerwin, of Rockford, Michigan, poses for a photo with his wife and newborn daughter, Kayla.
Matt Kerwin, of Rockford, Michigan, took the Dads on Deck class in mid-January in preparation for the birth of his daughter, Kayla, who arrived Jan. 25, about two weeks before her due date. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

What does it take to be an awesome dad?

As Roderic Collins recalls, it wasn’t so long ago that he wondered the same thing.

Sixteen years ago one of his children was about to be born, and he found himself sitting in a class full of guys in the same situation.

They were all men, all gearing up for fatherhood. And they all wanted to hear from other guys what it’s all about.

About a year after attending that class, Collins, now a father of three, decided he wanted to start teaching it.

He knew this much for sure: When it comes to preparing for a new baby, dads can gain plenty of useful wisdom from other men who have already traveled the path.

Collins is now the instructor of Dads on Deck, a guys-only class that aims to answer—in a one-time session that lasts about two-and-a-half hours—some of the questions that race through the minds of soon-to-be dads.

Dads on Deck is unlike any of the other classes out there, Collins said, because it focuses on dads. As he tells all the future fathers, he’s just a guy who has been in the same place, entertaining the same fears.

Dads on Deck

Dads on Deck is a one-time class offered every other month. The next class is 6:30 p.m. May 12 at 665 Seward Ave. NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Each class is $25.

It’s recommended that fathers-to-be register early—there are about 15 spots in each class and they fill up quickly.

Expecting dads can take the class anytime during their partner’s pregnancy, but they should try to register for the class by their partner’s fifth or sixth month of pregnancy, said Jenny Callaghan, supervisor of prenatal community education for Spectrum Health Healthier Communities.

For more information call 616.267.2626, option 4.

He first started teaching the class about 15 years ago, and about five years ago he began heading it up in West Michigan.

He covers a variety of essential topics, such as: What emotions might you expect from the new mom? What happens during labor? How will things play out those first few days back at home?

The class is designed to cover aspects critical to the long-term well being of the family: saving money, caring for baby, nurturing romance, supporting your partner.

Collins said he’s frank, honest, and he doesn’t sugarcoat it.

As each person’s experiences are different, Collins said he doesn’t want expecting fathers to think his classes are the final word on being a new dad. Each man’s life and circumstances will differ from his neighbor’s, given the endless variables in households and relationships.

Still, the content in Collins classes is designed to provide a useful foundation on which to build.

A man can be young and inexperienced in life, or he can have a Ph.D. He can be working class, or he can be well-off. Either way, all guys are in the same boat when it comes to being a first-time dad.

“Experience of being a first-time father can be overwhelming,” Collins said.


When it came to preparing for his first child, Matt Kerwin said he took the time to read a book, but he was still left with the desire for more information.

The 43-year-old said he related well to Dads on Deck because it offered a “no-nonsense perspective of what it’s like for fellas.”

Kerwin, of Rockford, Michigan, took the class in mid-January in preparation for the birth of his daughter, Kayla, who arrived January 25, about two weeks before her due date.

“This is a life-changing thing,” Kerwin said of having a child.

He said he gained essential insight from Collins. He learned the importance of freezing and preparing meals ahead of the baby’s arrival, as well as the importance of making a list of items to pack for the hospital.

He also took receiving blankets home with the baby’s scent, so the pets would be familiar with the scent before the baby arrived. Kerwin also learned that it was best to work on the nursery for about 10 to 15 minutes a day, so it wouldn’t feel like a daunting task.

And that’s just a few of the many, many things they talked about in the class.

Kerwin said he highly recommends the class, but he also suggests that men come ready to learn.

For his part, Collins said he enjoys playing an important role in the lives of the new dads. He most enjoys interacting with the guys, getting them to open up and letting them know they don’t need to be afraid.

There are men from many backgrounds who have gone through the same thing, and they have all succeeded.

“If I can survive, you can survive,” Collins said.