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Bears LB Sam Acho uses faith to guide him through fatherhood

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  • By Lisa Zimmerman Special to NFL.com
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In honor of Father's Day, Lisa Zimmerman explores how being a dad has impacted the lives of five members of the NFL family.

Sam Acho, now in his fourth season with the Chicago Bears and his eighth in the NFL, has always loved children and always knew that, someday, he wanted children of his own. A man of strong faith, he believes God instilled in him that desire and also cites his parents as his first role models. Watching their relationship, and how they nurtured him and his brother, added to his own innate desire to have a family.

When Acho and his wife, Ngozi, got married in 2014 (as the linebacker was still playing for the Arizona Cardinals, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft), they received a lot of advice from people about when to start a family. However, their decision had already been made.

"When my wife and I met, both of us had a huge desire to be parents. We started getting advice: Enjoy being married before you have kids, travel. We didn't take their advice," Acho laughed. "[Our son], Caleb was a honeymoon baby."

Caleb, now three-and-a-half years old, has been joined by a one-and-a-half-year-old sister, Sophie, and the couple is expecting their third child in August. The delight is clear in Acho's voice when he talks about his children -- not only the joy they've brought, but the lessons he's learned from them.

"I've become a lot more selfless. I have to be conscious about the things they need," he said. "Also, when I see my son do something, I wonder, 'Where did he learn that?' Well, he learned it from me. You have to be careful. Dads sometimes want to live vicariously through their kids. My dad's a psychologist, a marriage counselor and a pastor. But I have a different path, so he didn't force me to be a psychologist. He wanted me to go to college, but when the football door opened, he supported that."

(Photo courtesy of Sam Acho/Special to NFL.com)

To help him navigate both the day-to-day events and the overall journey, Acho relies heavily on his faith and Ngozi, especially given his football schedule: "I give kudos to my wife, because there are no days off." Acho also makes sure to focus on the realities of life and the fact that things don't always go as planned.

"Don't feel like you have to be a perfect dad," he said. "Enjoy the process and learn and go to other people for advice. The worst mistake you can make is to think you should be perfect. It's also trying to balance wanting your children to be perfect but understanding that they're just kids. I'm a Christian and I go back to Christian principles, which say, Don't be so hard on your kids, they're just kids. Find the moments of happiness because there's also going to be really tough and hard moments."

With Father's Day coming, Acho reflected on the meaning of that, what it really means to be a father, and the realities in the larger scope.

"What are you doing the other 364 days a year?" he said. "What about when the rubber meets the road, when you're frustrated, when the kids aren't eating or sleeping -- that's the gritty stuff that matters. The only way to it is through it. You gotta be there when their diapers are dirty and that's what being a dad is all about.

"I knew I wanted to be a husband and a father. I didn't know what it would look like, but it's better than I could have imagined. There's no greater joy than having a child you can love and care for and help grow. There's no harder job, but it's worth it."

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