PARENTING : Lessons for Dads : Temple program launches men into a newfound sense of awareness about fathering and fathers' issues and offers them a chance to discuss their fears and anxieties.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Gordon Monson is a regular contributor to The Times

Bob Israel wanted to learn to be a better dad.

Doug Kanner wanted to bond with his infant son and interact with other fathers.

Alan Zweig wanted, in his words, "to become less of a moron," parentally speaking.

All three enrolled in the Dads and Kids Program at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles and, in the process, left parental moronity in their wake. In fact, the fathers say they have been launched headlong into a newfound sense of awareness about fathering and fathers' issues.

The program "provides an opportunity for men to share ideas about a father's experience, a chance to support one another, to verbalize their fears, anxieties, the whole range of emotions," says Israel, of Sherman Oaks, a motion picture advertising executive and father of two. "It's almost made me a father activist. Rather than falling into the same role as my father's generation, we kept reinforcing that dads aren't there just to be moms' helpers. We are co-parents."

The facilitator of such modern thinking is, in this case, Jeff Marsh, a psychologist in Beverly Hills, who initiated the dads curriculum at the Wise Temple Parenting Center after the birth of his own child. The program begins its 11th year with once-a-month Saturday morning meetings beginning Oct. 10.

"This was unheard-of back then," Marsh says. "There were a lot of parenting programs, but dads would usually show up for a one-shot deal. They'd stand around, eat a snack and have no idea what they should be doing."

Under Marsh, dads have come a long way with their babies.

His program, for fathers and their children 5 and younger, includes time for play activities, storytelling, a snack, a fathers' discussion group and music.

"It's an opportunity for kids to spend extra time with Dad," says Micki Cooley, administrator of the parenting center. "The fathers are able to network with other fathers, to discuss and explore parenting styles. There's a lot of lively exchange. It helps them define their role with their children."

Marsh says the group discussions are a highlight of the sessions.

"I've discovered that men really do have a lot to talk about," says Marsh, who leads the discussions. "They ask, 'Hey, what's it like to be a dad? This is what it's like for me.'

"Men don't typically talk about those things. But, here, they discuss all kinds of issues: relationships with children, how to divide their time, secret fears, disciplining. It's not teachy, preachy stuff, just important issues."

Zweig, 41, a dentist who lives in Sherman Oaks, says he benefited most from the discussion group after the birth of his second child. He became concerned about problems such as lack of sleep, sibling rivalry and dividing his time efficiently.

"My life became difficult, and this was a way of getting support," he says. "I was interested in being a better father, yes. I was also interested in survival."

The discussion group "was like having big brothers. Everyone was there to share the joy and the pain. I learned a lot about being effective, dealing with problems, guiding children in the right direction."

Kanner, a 36-year-old entrepreneur who lives in Century City, says the program's combination of play time and discussion time simply made clear to him how much he enjoys being a father.

"I didn't have a lot of friends with 1-year-old children," he says. "I couldn't see what other fathers go through. It was interesting to learn to interact with other dads."

Most of the fathers who enroll in the program "are enamored by their kids. The first thing Saturday morning, you take care of them and go off on this three-hour ritual," Kanner says. "It's a great bonding thing. But I realized I thrive on it. I love being a dad. With all the gloom and doom of the day, it's one very bright spot. It's the greatest."

Where to GO

What: Dads and Kids Program.

Location: Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles.

Cost: $25 a session. Each session meets from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday once a month for four months. Next session begins Saturday. Fathers must register in advance.

Call: (818) 788-4778.

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