Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and perhaps no one knows this better than parents. Gary Dennis, a pastor at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, recalls actually looking for a set of directions years ago when he brought his first child home from the hospital. Needless to say, the truth was disappointing.

“We finally got a copy of Dr. Spock,” Dennis says. “Everything that happened, we’d try to find the page that related to what was going on.”

Now, Dennis and his wife are raising their three grandchildren, and need look no further than their own church for help throughout the parenting process. For nearly 33 years, La Cañada Presbyterian Church has offered weekly classes for parents brave enough to admit they need assistance through its Parent Education program. The paid classes are led by experienced educators, professionals and parents and cover a broad range of ages, from newborns to teenagers.

Most of the program’s participants are mothers seeking advice or an opportunity to meet other moms dealing with the terrible twos, teething or teen angst. But lately, the program is seeing a different trend as more and more fathers enroll, according to LCPC’s Parent Education Director Anne Bierling.

“As circumstances in the home change, more families are asking what’s best for them,” Bierling said. Sometimes, a father’s job can be more easily performed out of the home or the wife’s job brings the family more income. Other times, fathers enroll because they are raising children alone or are looking for support and the company of other parents.

Pasadena restaurateur Jack Huang was raised in a traditional Taiwanese home, where children did not talk back to parents. He wants his relationship with his 6-year-old daughter, Nicole, to be more dynamic than that but realizes there’s a lot to learn.

“In the Chinese culture, the mom or dad just tells us what to do and we don’t ask,” Huang said. “Here, today, the teaching is quite different.”

For years, overwhelmed parents like Huang sought parenting advice from Dr. Spock. Today, they’ve got the Internet. Whenever La Cañada dad Martin Sottile Hassman has a question about parenting his adopted 6-year-old twins, Ashley and Rubin, he seeks an answer online. There he reads tales from parents who’ve been there, advice from doctors and anecdotes that attempt to pick apart parenting fact and fiction. After a while, it’s just not good enough.

“I had special parenting issues I didn’t know how to handle,” confesses Sottile Hassman, who is raising his twins with his husband.

When he saw the Parenting Ed banner in front of La Cañada Presbyterian, he made the call. He’s been in the program now for two years and appreciates the support and advice he gets from other parents. The classes have taught him to look for problems before they arise. “Before I was being reactive, now I’m proactive,” he said.

That’s what Montrose father Bill Lundeen was seeking when he joined the program last year. He’s going through a divorce and realizes he may need the help of a support network if he is going to raise his 9-year-old daughter Lauren on his own.

“There’s always room to learn, and this is a great community to do it in,” Lundeen said. “The lessons I have learned have given Lauren and I a way to transition into this new family dynamic in a productive and serene way.”

Peter Bissias, a La Cañada resident, began taking the classes two years ago when daughter Taia was 4. At that time his wife, Michelle, was fighting an aggressive form of cancer that would eventually take her life, and he worried he could never replace her as Taia’s primary caregiver. “I knew she was doing most of the parenting, and I needed education,” Bissias admits. “I signed up last year and it was a blessing.”

The non-denominational classes are open to anyone, whether participants are looking for wisdom and insight or just something to do. The latter was the case for San Marino stay-at-home dad and former La Cañada resident Gunter Kocourek, who attended a recent class with his 2-year-old twins Liesel and Gunter Cole.

“This is the best program,” Kocourek said. “I was looking for something to do when my mom reminded me she took me to parent ed when I was a kid.”

Annual spring registration for Fall 2011-2012 classes begins May 14, and can be completed online. To learn more about LCPC’s Parent Education program, or to attend a free class, call (818) 790-6708, ext. 205, or visit www.lcpcparented.org.

FYI

LCPC Parent Education Annual Fundraiser Gala

La Cañada Presbyterian Church’s Parent Education program will hold its spring social and fundraiser in Old Town Pasadena March 25. The evening will include a light Mediterranean feast, drinks, silent and live auction, live music and the presentation of the first-ever “Shining Star Award.” The event begins at 6 p.m. in the Rococo Room at Cafe Santorini. Tickets are $85. For information,call (818) 790-6708, ext. 205.