Michelle Tauber and Elizabeth Leonard
March 21, 2011 12:00 PM

When it comes to child rearing at Charlie Sheen‘s Beverly Hills house,-a.k.a. the Sober Valley Lodge-there appear to be some rules: (1) No smoking inside when the kids are around. (2) No trash-talking Dad’s ex-wives in front of them, no matter how contentious things get behind closed doors. (“Never an ill word-ever,” Sheen’s “goddess” girlfriend Natalie Kenly tells PEOPLE.) (3) Latch the childproof safety gates throughout the house. And (4) before entering the bedroom of the actor’s 2-year-old twins Max and Bob, mind the note by the door, posted alongside a bottle of antibacterial gel: “Please wash your hands before touching mine.”

Yet these outward signs of domestic mindfulness stand in stark contrast to the (now former) Two and a Half Men star’s troubling reality: In all his Twitter-blasting, media-blitzing mania, Sheen, a father of five, is on fragile ground when it comes to his most precious assets. On March 1 a judge temporarily stripped the actor, 45, of custody of his sons and granted a restraining order to his estranged wife, Brooke Mueller, 33, after she submitted a declaration stating that Sheen made death threats against her.

Then the other shoe: On March 7, Warner Bros. Television, which produces Two and a Half Men (like PEOPLE, Warner Bros. is owned by Time Warner), announced that Sheen had been fired from his hit CBS sitcom on the basis of, among other things, “felony offenses involving moral turpitude,” including the actor’s previous admissions of cocaine use. The dramatic firing-detailed in a stunning 11-page letter from Warner Bros. (see box), obtained by the website TMZ-prompted a characteristically bizarre response from Sheen, whose lawyer plans to sue Warner Bros. and Men co-creator Chuck Lorre. Ripping Lorre with a colorful expletive, Sheen-who has repeatedly accused his TV bosses of “trying to destroy” his family by taking away his nearly $2 million-per-episode livelihood-stated, “It is a big day of gladness at the Sober Valley Lodge because now I can take all of their bazillions … and I never have to put on those silly shirts as long as this warlock exists in the terrestrial dimension.” Amid all the drama, Sheen said in a March 7 evening text to PEOPLE, “At some point there is nothing to say. Only war to wage. Without judgment. Without fear … Without the presence of a child. The winds are howling tonight. The gods are hungry. The beast is alive. And awake. And deadly.”

As Sheen (who tested clean for drugs in late February) rages on, those close to the situation say his four small children-Bob and Max, who turn 2 on March 14, and daughters Sam, 7, and Lola, 5, with ex-wife Denise Richards-are being shielded from the circus as much as possible. (Sheen also has a 26-year-old daughter, Cassandra, with ex-girlfriend Paula Speert; see box.) The boys, who have been in the care of Mueller and her mother, Moira Fiore, since being taken from Sheen on March 1, “have no idea what is going on,” a family source close to Mueller tells PEOPLE. During a March 5 outing to a Los Angeles park, “they were throwing the ball and running all over the place. They are very happy.” His daughters, who live full-time with Richards, are also “doing well,” says a source. “They’re continuing with their normal routine.”

But there can be no question that the events of recent weeks have been turbulent, particularly the twins’ removal by police officers on March 1-a scene that unspooled before Sheen’s own video cameras as part of the surreal, 24-hour reality show in which he has been starring. Taking swigs from Bob’s sippy cup during his first webcast of “Sheen’s Korner” on March 5, the star opened the rambling, self-indulgent show-which drew more than 100,000 viewers during its live broadcast; an additional 1 million watched later-with a “big shout-out” to his children. “Daddy loves you, and if you’re watching, tell Mom to leave the room,” said the ever-defiant actor. “It’s on.”

Such contentious custody wrangling is nothing new for Sheen, who feuded viciously with Richards, 40, during their 2006 divorce. Alleging that she feared for her safety and the safety of their daughters, Richards won a restraining order against Sheen in April 2006. But in recent years the couple have appeared to strike a surprising peace. The actress “stays strong for the girls, but it’s very upsetting for her,” says a source, who says that in the past Sheen has made the decision to stay away from the girls while his addictions were at their worst. “Any time Charlie has spent with Sam and Lola over the years has been his choice,” says the source. “It was his choice not to be there, and during dark times it was his behavior that Denise had to protect the kids from. He’s missed a lot of birthdays and holidays, and it’s always been hard on the girls. He missed Christmas this year with his entire family.”

In a rare moment of regret, Sheen himself told PEOPLE on Feb. 28, “There’s a feeling … that I haven’t spent enough time with them, and they’re getting older. Not the boys, but the girls.” Sam and Lola have not been to their dad’s house “in quite some time,” says the source, adding that they haven’t met Sheen’s two 24-year-old live-in “goddesses,” Kenly and Rachel Oberlin (who until recently was best known as porn star Bree Olson). “Charlie wanted Denise to take a picture with Brooke and the goddesses and she refused,” adds the source. In response, a livid Sheen, who has boasted of “hanging on” to his “resentments,” lashed out at Richards, says the source: “He went crazy on her and sent her really horrible text messages.”

Meanwhile, Mueller-who has long struggled with her own addiction issues and admitted to relapsing just a week before she took back the kids-continues to clash with Sheen. Despite Mueller’s willingness to vacation with Sheen and his girlfriends as recently as Feb. 23, the exes are now clearly at odds. As Sheen tweeted shortly after the twins were taken away: “My path is now clear … Defeat is not an option..!”

But legal experts say that Sheen’s recent behavior is making that path increasingly difficult. “As far as custody is concerned, Charlie’s digging his own grave with every erratic thing he does,” says L.A. family law attorney Scott Weston, who is not involved with the case. “All of it can be played back in court to show he’s an unfit parent.”

Yet for all his ranting about warlocks, tiger blood and “winning,” multiple sources in various camps say Sheen is a loving father. “He loves all his kids,” says one source close to the star. At home with his sons, “he doesn’t talk down to them or do the baby-talk thing,” says Kenly, who formerly worked as a nanny. “He reads to them, chases them around the house because they’re going a mile a minute.” A fanatical sports fan, “he’ll show them baseballs, and they love that,” says Kenly. “I’m sure the boys will be Little Leaguers.” The twins also are developing distinct personalities: Outgoing Bob “has a more dominant personality-he’s intense for a little baby,” says Kenly. “You tell him one thing one time and he’s got it locked. He’s very similar to Charlie in that way.” As for Max, “he’s more shy. He doesn’t talk as much, but he looks at you with a big smile.”

With the twins’ second birthday on March 14, Mueller’s best friend is planning a big party a few days before. It’s unlikely, however, that their father will be among the guests. “What’s really sad is that if things don’t change, his children won’t want anything to do with him when they get older,” says a source. “And that will be their choice.” Still, another source is hopeful that the actor will be able to forge the kind of close bond with his kids that he long enjoyed with his own dad, actor Martin Sheen, until his ongoing issues got in the way. “Beneath it all, Charlie loves his children,” says a source close to him. “He wants his kids back.”

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