Dr. Jeff Gardere Helps Soon-To-Be Fathers Shape Up on 'Dad Camp'

Filed under: Single Parenting, Expert Advice: Family Time, Expert Advice: Home Base

"America's psychologist" Dr. Jeff Gardere is turning slacker guys into responsible dads. Credit: VH1

How do you turn dudes into dads?

Take a crash course in fatherhood with Dr. Jeff Gardere on VH1's new reality show, "Dad Camp," in which six soon-to-be fathers and their baby mamas prepare for parenthood.

Gardere tells ParentDish that even though the show deals with serious issues, it doesn't skimp on entertainment.

"Finally, we can see something that fulfills all of the guilty pleasures of the trashy kind of stuff we love to see on reality TV, yet at the same time this is something that's going to really change lives and make an impact," he says.

"Dad Camp" premieres May 31 at 10:30 p.m. EST on VH1. An edited version of our conversation with Gardere follows.

ParentDish: We've heard that "Dad Camp" was inspired by President Barack Obama. Is this true?
Jeff Gardere:
Yes, it is. I believe it was a speech he gave on Father's Day. He was talking about an epidemic in the black community with all these single parent homes and fathers not being present for their children.

PD: There's a wide range of ages and lengths of time that the couples on the show have been together. Was that on purpose?
I think the goal in casting the show was simply looking for couples that were having real issues with the pregnancy -- not just getting young people who perhaps didn't know what they were getting into, but finding couples that had real emotional issues around the preparation for the baby as well having their couple's issues.

PD: As nice as it would be to have all of these couples happy and staying together, is that the goal of the show?
The goal of the show was never to have the couples fall in love again, or fall in love in the first place, because some of them were not in love to begin with -- they were just together out of convenience or out of sex. It was not the goal to get them married. But what we saw developing through the show was that, as these guys became more responsible fathers-to-be, there was a positive correlation to the respect that they started developing for their females, for their girlfriends. There will be some surprises there for you to see.

PD: How do you hope the show will affect the viewership?
What I would like to see is that, for one, the deadbeat dads that are out there, or the really terrible fathers, will see themselves in this show and it will be a call to arms to them to do something about it because they will see firsthand how destructive their behaviors are to themselves, to their partners and certainly for the babies.

PD: What do you think of shows like "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom"? Do you think they're doing a service or are they glamorizing teen parenthood?
I think with those shows there must be the entertainment value, of course, but I would hope ... even though it might give somewhat of a positive spin because it shows how these girls end up surviving and doing better, I think, for some, it's almost a scared straight, but without trying to scare them straight. They look at it and say, "OK, all well and done, they may be successful, but this is not what I want for my life. This is a huge responsibility."

PD: You wrote the book "Practical Parenting" with Montel Williams. What made you want to focus on parenting?
This has been my life's work, only because I am a clinical psychologist who happens to be an African-American, and in the African-American community we're disproportionately affected by single-parent homes. So, I'm dealing with single-parent families all the time and working with the aftermath of that -- the kids who are acting out all the time because they never had a proper upbringing, or a father who was never really there, or parents who were on drugs. So, when I was called by 3Ball (the production company behind "Dad Camp") to come in and do this show, to me it was like a prayer being answered by God because now I can do this not just in my office or not just in the black community, but nationally -- if not internationally -- trying to make a difference in the lives of these fathers-to-be, fathers that are there but are not great fathers, certainly with the women who give birth to these kids and to the kids themselves.

PD: You're called "America's Psychologist." How did you earn that title?
(On America's Health Network) I was the host of "Ask the Psychologist," and it just went on from there. The fact is, we're in a society where we like to segment people. My first book, I wanted to write it for everyone, but the publishers kept saying, 'No, we need you to write it for the black population because you're a black psychologist.' So, as soon as I was able to get the opportunity, I said, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to be America's psychologist and I'm going to talk to everyone.

PD: So there's not going to be a throw down with Dr. Drew?
Oh no, no death cage match. I actually love Dr. Drew. I think he really opened the doors for this kind of work on TV and I hope I can live up to what Dr. Drew has been able to do on reality TV.

Related: Reality Show 'Dad Camp' Turns Boys Into Men by Teaching Them to be Fathers

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.