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Thursday, August 2, 2012
Papa Bears tackle fatherhood

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Matt Forte has one suggestion for his Chicago Bears teammates who are expectant fathers.

"If I had any advice, I'd say have them in the offseason," he said with a laugh.

That recommendation comes a little late for Jay Cutler, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester, all of whom are on high alert for babies due this month. Punter Adam Podlesh is hoping he and his wife's first child, a girl, cooperates and arrives during the Bears' bye week in October. And D.J. Moore is counting on his wife holding out and delivering their first child in mid-February as expected.

Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler is one of several Bears who will be first-time fathers very soon.

But anyone who has ever had a baby knows that the unexpected is more like it.

"Having her in the bye week would be great," said Podlesh, "and maybe we could possibly induce during that period. But whatever is going to be best for the baby is what's going to happen. Hopefully I'm going to be in town for it …

"Lovie [Smith] is very understanding, but it might be a little extreme for him to say, 'Oh well, let's just go for it on fourth down.'"

When Tyler Clutts and his wife had their first child, a baby girl named Giada, last November, it was a trip. Literally.

"We planned it out to have my wife induced so she could have our daughter on Monday, our off-day, after we played San Diego [at Soldier Field]," the fullback recalled. "But she started to move really fast, and I was like, in Phoenix [on a layover en route to Fresno, Calif.] and started to stress."

Complicating matters, of course, was that there was a fog delay in Fresno. Fortunately, the dad-to-be arrived in time for the festivities.

"My wife had her an hour after I landed," Clutts said. "I just made it. Right after I got to the hospital, the doctor walked in and the process started. It was awesome."

First-timers and veteran Bears dads all agree that one thing new parents can count on is that life will never quite be the same.

"You see your little sister every day playing with a baby doll but when she gets tired of it, she puts it up," said Hester, whose first child, Devin, turns 3 in November. "You can't put this up. They're going to be with you for the rest of your life. … But now you know you have a purpose for why you're here. Not only because you love the game, but now it's an opportunity to provide for your family."

Charles Tillman and his wife Jackie have three children, and he struggled to describe how his perspective has changed as a father.

"I have to be careful how I word this, but the best thing about a loss is I go home and my kids know nothing about it and they make you feel great," he said. "You can give up the game-winning touchdown, throw the game-winning pick, whatever, feel [terrible] and you go home and your kids are like, 'Hey dad, what's going on? We missed you.' And you think, 'Yeah, there is more to life than just football.'"

The Tillmans were given an added jolt of perspective when their second child, Tiana, was born with cardiomyopathy and underwent a heart transplant in 2008. Since then, Tiana and older sister Talya have welcomed baby brother Tysen to the mix.

"I just advise anyone having kids, whether you want them during the season or offseason, it's difficult," Tillman said. "But as I tell people, it's your new normal and you find ways to adjust. People have kids with disabilities and you or I think it's hard but to them, it's a new normal, and you wouldn't give it up for the world. I know I had to wake up every four hours to give my child meds, but they're still there and it's a blessing …

"The beauty of parenthood is they're so innocent, and they don't know anything about a Cover 2 or a Jay Cutler or the Chicago Bears. They'll say, 'Why does somebody want your autograph, dad? That's weird.' I'm like, 'I know, right?' I'm just dad."

It is a concept that Roberto Garza echoes.

"Obviously it means a lot what we do on the field, but when you come home and your daughter starts screaming 'Daddy, daddy,' there's nothing more important," he said. "Obviously our success on the field is going to be great for them as well so what we do means a lot, but when you come home and see your kids, there's nothing like that."

Garza said his wife Ashley spares him late-night responsibilities of caring for their 2-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son in the interest of allowing him his rest during the season. But Moore said he doesn't think that will be a problem for him.

"I don't worry about that," he said. "The kid is the most important thing. I can play football in my sleep, so I'll be all right."

Podlesh said he expects his life to change and prefers it that way.

"I know it's going to change a lot of things for the better, and I'm really psyched about it," he said. "My wife has been more than gracious in helping me do my job and helping with my career …

"There's going to be compromises with certain things just like there are with any part of a marriage. It's probably going to be one of those things where during season, it will be a little bit more lenient on myself and in the offseason, it's probably going to be a little bit more intense on myself, and I'm fine with that. That's just the way this job works, and I wouldn't trade it for anything else."

Garza laughs that every football player his daughter sees is "Daddy," and Tillman said his daughter extends that to every team. "It might be Green Bay or Tampa or the Detroit Lions," he said. "As long as they see football, they're like, 'Oooh daddy, that's you, that's your team right there.'"

Garza said he is looking forward to his teammates' new arrivals, Cutler's and Bennett's expected first over the next few weeks.

"They're all great guys, and they're going to be great dads," he said. "It's so fun when you have a family to get a chance to watch your kids grow up. There's nothing better."

Clutts said he could not even tell teammates what to anticipate.

"Once you have a child," said Clutts, "you can't imagine life without them. It definitely changes your life but so much for the better. I didn't think it was going to be as great as it really is. I don't think you really can have the proper expectation for what it's really going to be."

Asked about the concept of Cutler being called "Daddy," Forte smiled.

"I think it will be good for them to have these little girls or boys running around," he said. "It makes you mature a lot faster than if you didn't have children. You're a role model now to someone who's going to be just like you. It's all about them."