A Father’s Day Gift He’ll Open—and Actually Read

Publishing a parenting book that dads will actually pick up and read is no easy feat. Unless that book is really funny, not sentimental, to the point, results-oriented, filled with bullet points and illustrations, and-did I mention-indestructible?

Joshua Levitt, a Hamden resident, naturopathic physician, and father of three young children who describes himself as "a certified human jungle gym," has succeeded on all fronts with his new book Baby Barbells: The Dad's Guide to Fitness and Fathering.

The book is divided into body parts-triceps, biceps, chest, abdominals, etc.-and each section gives related daddy/baby exercises, as well as humorous former and current uses of each body part. In addition, Levitt provides tips for taming fussy babies, sleep strategies, and good nutrition pointers (for dads).

Levitt owns Whole Health, a natural family medicine practice in Hamden. He also teaches at the Yale School of Medicine and is an involved dad, so the idea for the book came purely out of his own experience. It began percolating when his now-eight-year-old daughter was just six months old.

"She was fussy. I was tired. My wife would hand over this cranky kid and I would lie down and perch her on my chest," Levitt recalls. "I'd lift her up and down and it not only calmed her down, but I started to feel the burn in my triceps. I realized, this is multi-tasking at its finest.

"I hadn't been exercising," Levitt explains. "It had fallen by the wayside in my efforts to be the doctor, father, husband-not necessarily in that order-and I was getting out of shape. I could be with the baby, squeeze in a few reps, and have fun doing it."

Levitt says that after his third child was sleeping through the night, he decided to make a go of the book.

"I wanted to articulate the idea of multi-tasking and being a hands-on father," he says.

"I didn't want it to be another big, boring parenting book. I wanted it to be quick and accessible and written in a casual, conversational tone."

Hence, the blocky shape and thick, "indestructible" pages fashioned after a baby board book that Levitt says "can get drooled on, stepped on, kicked around the living room, and flipped open when daddy has a minute of down time."

And the bold, masculine illustrations by Matt Stevens, who happens to live down the street from Levitt, were created to appeal to men with their "sporty themes and hip, cool dad vibe," Levitt says.

In a section on balancing work and family, Levitt emphasizes that fathers need to unplug and be present with their children.

"I'm stunned by what I see in the playground," he says. "The kid is saying, 'Daddy, look at me!' and daddy's on his Blackberry. There's a whole generation of people who don't remember their fathers ever being around-the absent father. But now dads can do work from anywhere, not just at the office. They're physically present-a positive thing, but if you're on your Blackberry [or iPhone], your mind isn't there. Your attention should be on the kid, not the device."

In the last section of the book, Levitt talks about fitting fitness into one's everyday life.

"You don't need special sneakers or to pay to go to the gym," he says. "This isn't a workout guide or a body-building book, but it is a fun way to include some exercise into your existing life."

Levitt is already working on a "sequel" about physically involved fathering during the next ages and stages.

"My kids aren't babies anymore. Our exercises are more advanced," he says. "We incorporate this kind of healthy activity into the playground, family bike rides, skateboarding." (Levitt admits that he's 38 and has no plans to give up his skateboard anytime soon.)

"I think this kind of father-child interaction is good for the father, good for the child, good for the family, and therefore good for the world," Levitt says. "Research across the board shows that kids are more successful-socially, emotionally, academically-when their dads are involved in their lives."

Baby Barbells by Joshua Levitt, N.D. (Running Press) is $13.95. Levitt will give a talk and book-signing at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison on Saturday, June 4 at 4 p.m. The event is free, but reservations can be made by calling 203- 203-245-3959 or by visitng www.rjjulia.com. The Greater New Haven Jewish Community Center in Woodbridge will host a dads and kids event with Levitt on Sunday, June 12 from 10:30 a.m. to noon; call 203-387-2522 for more information.

For more about Baby Barbells, visit www.babybarbells.com

Amy J. Barry lives and writes in Stony Creek. Email her at aimwrite@snet.net.

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