In honor of Father's Day, Lisa Zimmerman explores how being a dad has impacted the lives of five members of the NFL family.
New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty and his identical twin brother, Devin (a safety with the Pats), were three years old when their father passed away due to health issues. The two grew up having a very close relationship with one another and their mother. And Jason McCourty always dreamed about having his own children to experience that father-child relationship.
McCourty, now entering his 10th NFL season, and his wife, Melissa, are the parents of three children: Liana, 5, Kaiden, 2, and Kai, 1. And the experience has already exceeded everything he hoped for.
"It's been a ton of fun," he said. "I thought about it when my daughter (Liana) turned 3. It was surreal because that's the age I was when my father passed away. It motivated me to pour even more into them. Just to be able to be there has been a huge -- to experience everything and take everything in as it's going on."
McCourty has also seen changes in himself and how he handles things since becoming a father.
"I think I'm a more patient person and I think I'm also more affectionate in public," the 30-year-old said. "Those things have changed a lot. Before you have kids, you can blow up and get mad, then you have kids and they teach you the opposite. You have to be patient when you're helping -- whether it's with school work or potty training, it's a whole other level of patience. And I used to never outwardly show hugs and kisses, but once I had kids, it just naturally happened."
Of course, balancing family life and playing in the NFL takes work, especially when work takes you to different places. McCourty was originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2009, played there for eight years, and then spent the 2017 season in Cleveland before being traded to New England in March.
"My 5-year-old had been in her same preschool in Tennessee, and then last season she had to go to a new school in Cleveland and she wanted to go back [to Tennessee], so I felt terrible because I'm the reason we're moving," McCourty said. "Then she was so sad to be leaving [Cleveland]. It's all of those transitions. But, you have more fear than them. You're looking for all these signs, Is she OK? But they're resilient."
In addition, the NFL schedule itself is very demanding, and the ups and downs of the season can be emotionally trying. McCourty acknowledged that, especially during the season, his wife takes on the lion's share of the responsibilities. But he stays as involved as possible.
"It's all about time management," he said. "When you have no kids, you can come home, play video games, watch TV. Now I come home and my wife is looking at me like, I want to get out the door. She's been with them all day. So, as soon as you come home, you're a human jungle gym, dancing, doing things with them."
And while sometimes there are days when that adds additional stress, McCourty relayed one story in which being a dad turned a very bad day into a very good one -- it put life and fatherhood completely in perspective for him.
"We had played in Houston. We had a tough game and we lost in overtime," he said. "I had a good game, but I remember being on the plane ride feeling awful. Then I got home and walked in the door, my daughter was around 2 at the time, and as soon as the door opened she came running, yelling, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!' In that moment, I didn't even think about the game. She had no idea the day I had; she was just so happy to see me. That put things in a different perspective. I love this game and put a lot into it, but there's bigger things.
"Before you have kids you can't even fathom what it really is. I remember when Dev got ready to have kids, I said, 'There's no advice I can give you, you've got to learn on the job.' It's been everything I imagined, and so much more."