The first time Mark Ingram held his daughter, Myla, in his hands, he started to cry.
Ingram couldn’t help it. No matter how much he had prepared, how many times he had seen her move on an ultrasound image or felt the little girl kick in his girlfriend’s stomach, the sight of one little detail on his daughter’s face overwhelmed him.
Myla has her dad’s nose.
The moment Ingram saw that little marker on her face, the magnitude of the moment hit him all at once.
“For nine months, you can see the ultrasound, you can see the heartbeat, but you never actually know what your daughter’s going to look like, what your child’s going to be like, if they’re going to be all the way healthy or whatever,” Ingram said. “It’s just crazy to know it’s your responsibility to take care of her.”
Ingram finds himself in a New Orleans Saints locker room that is full of sleep-deprived first-time fathers. New center Max Unger missed the Saints’ first organized team activity for the birth of his first child and, a couple of weeks later, defensive end Cam Jordan — Ingram’s best friend on the team — followed in the same footsteps.
“Mark Ingram’s been my guy,” Jordan said. “I call myself his daughter’s godfather; he calls himself my son’s godfather.”
Ingram takes the responsibility of fatherhood seriously.
His own father, former NFL receiver Mark Ingram Sr., made a distinct impression on his son. Despite the legal troubles that kept the elder Ingram in and out of jail for most of his son’s teenage years and into adulthood, he set an indelible example when he was at home.
Ingram Sr. always has been fiercely supportive of his son, so much so that he skipped bail in an effort to watch his son play in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and earned a longer sentence. Ingram Sr. was released from prison earlier this year after serving six years for bank fraud, money laundering and jumping bail.
No matter what his father did outside the home, Ingram credits his dad for teaching him a lot of the traits that have made him successful. Ingram has stayed in close touch, famously breaking down on stage when he was handed a letter at the NFL draft shortly after the Saints took him with the 28th pick, the same spot his father was taken.
“He was a disciplinarian when I didn’t do things the right way or I wasn’t obeying house rules but, you know, he was very supportive and very encouraging in everything I did, from school to sports to just how to treat people, how to address people,” Ingram said. “He taught me how to be the best that you can be.”
Ingram wants to instill the same confidence in Myla.
As little as she is right now, her father can’t help but wonder what kind of woman she might grow up to be someday.
“I just try to be there for her every day, every step of the way, and help her accomplish all of her dreams and aspirations, whatever she wants to be,” Ingram said.
“She can do whatever she wants as long as she puts her mind to it.”
At this point, still only 6 months old, Myla’s mind is set on the simple things: grabbing her dad’s cell phone, trying to stand and crawl, making noises and trying to talk. Ingram and his girlfriend keep a chalkboard in their home to write down every new thing their daughter is learning that month.
The benefit of Myla being born in December is that Ingram hasn’t had to miss any of her firsts. Far away from the grind of the regular season, Ingram has been at home for almost everything, and like most first-time fathers, he’s watching her like a hawk.
“She’s trying to scoot and crawl, she’s grabbing for things; if I have a cell phone in my hand, she’ll try to grab it and hold it, look at it,” Ingram said. “You don’t want to miss a thing, because you blink your eye, and they’re starting to crawl. You blink your eye, and they’re starting to color between the lines.”
So far, the toughest part of fatherhood came when Myla caught a cold. Ingram found himself watching his daughter closely, feeling a little helpless as he searched for some way to make it all better in the blink of an eye.
All he could do was wait.
“That’s probably the hardest thing right there, to see your child sick,” Ingram said. “There’s nothing you can really do about it. Wait until she gets over it and she’s healed.”
Father’s Day has always meant a lot to Ingram, given his relationship with his father. This one means more. Not only is it his first as a father himself, it’s the first Father’s Day since his dad was released from prison.
When Father’s Day dawns, Ingram will be with his entire family, celebrating a special moment.
“Our entire family, it’s been a while since we’ve all been together on a holiday, so just to have that ...” Ingram’s voice trailed off for a second. “I’m going to be with my father, with all my sisters, with my mother, my daughter, my girlfriend, it’s a blessing, and I’m grateful that we’re all going to be together, spend time together on my first Father’s Day.”
Anybody would understand if Ingram finds himself a little emotional again.