Tim McGraw‘s mind is on the music, but his heart is back home in Nashville. Flying up to Allentown, Pa., in September to perform a concert, McGraw completes a 90-minute set and is already back on a private jet before the last of the crowd has left the stands. Despite a busy schedule promoting his new album Southern Voice and upcoming film The Blind Side, costarring Sandra Bullock, “I try to be home every night,” says McGraw, 42. “I really like being there in the morning. Of course it’s frustrating with three daughters, because nothing is ever right; somebody always cries about their hair. I can braid and do ponytails, but my wife does it better.”
Country music’s self-described “tough guy” has clearly adapted to life in a household full of estrogen. With his wife, singer Faith Hill, 42, and their kids Gracie, 12, Maggie, 11, and Audrey, 7, “I’m pretty much a homebody,” he says. “Our life is pretty normal except for when we work, and we like it that way.” The singer sat down with PEOPLE’s Julie Jordan (somewhere 30,000 ft. above the Eastern seaboard) and opened up about balancing music and movies and how the love of a good woman helped him grow into a family man.
How would you describe yourself before you were married?
I didn’t get really wild until college. Right before I got married, I was a full-fledged rock star. But I was 29; it was time to settle down.
What would you say to him now?
I’d kick his a–. Tell him to grow up quicker. It wouldn’t work, but I’d tell him, “You’re going to have fun, trust me, but start the process a little earlier.”
What if you hadn’t met Faith?
I’d be dead. Oh yeah, I would have partied too hard. I might have caught myself somewhere along the way and put the brakes on. I don’t know if I would have gone [to rehab]; I don’t think I could have been talked into that during those times.
You’ve said that your wife has been a blessing.
Yeah, Faith saved my life in a lot of ways–from myself more than anything. I can go down a dark road sometimes, when you’re not feeling good about yourself, and she pulls me out. My wife makes me a better man.
Are your daughters “Daddy’s girls”?
They’re pretty equal opportunity. Here, I’ll show you [he opens his phone and searches through countless photos]. That’s Gracie doing her poses; she’s into fashion design, music and acting. Here’s Maggie, she’s the earth girl; she wants to move to Africa and take care of the kids and animals. That’s Audrey, she looks just like Faith–all elbows, knees and legs. She loves to sing all the time. They’re good kids.
How is it being the only guy in your house?
I’m working on my patience. I don’t have much choice! I’ve learned when they say they’re ready, I’ve got 30 minutes. My wife, bless her heart, is the hardest person to get out of the house. She says, “I have three girls to get ready and then I’m last.” I always pick on her, but she’s got a bigger list of complaints.
You’ve quit smoking and drinking?
I was never a smoker. When I drank, I smoked a little bit. I don’t smoke at all now and haven’t since I quit drinking. I’m not a moderate kind of guy. My last drink was probably a year and nine months ago. I didn’t do a 12-step program; I just stopped. Well, I had some help in deciding [laughs], but it was the right thing to do. You get to the point where you just want to be present for your kids, and you want them to be proud of you, and you start being really concerned about what their memories are. It’s all about knowing when.
So what do you do for “guy time”?
I bird-hunt or shoot skeet with the guys. And I just got my pilot’s license. I love it. Maggie’s been up with me, but Faith says she doesn’t want both parents up there if something happens. I understand, but she’s not a good flier. I told her we could get in the mile high club easy that way–nobody’s around, autopilot [laughs]!
Have you and Faith thought about having more children?
We talked about it once. We even have names for boys. I would love to have a boy also, but if we start again now, we’re going to be old when they’re gone. We started out wanting five [kids], and life just … got busy.
What inspired your new album?
I just found the songs that I loved, and ’70s rock is my favorite. I feel like I still have a lot more music to make. I want to grow and I want people to grow with me.
You seem to enjoy acting too.
It’s a tough gig. It’s hard to drop your cool, but I’m learning. Sandra Bullock is great, and it’s nice when you have a cuddling scene with somebody that your wife likes.
Would you be supportive if the girls want to pursue a career in showbiz?
I’d be supportive of anything they’d want to do. And preferably they would have a “Dr.” in front of their name.
What’s your first thought when someone mentions your dad [the late baseball player Tug McGraw]?
Just regret. I would be a different person had I grown up with my dad. There’s regret that even when we did get to know each other, we didn’t spend a lot of time together.
You’ve talked about running for office. Is that in your future?
Not anytime soon, but it’s always fascinated me. I would consider it if all the stars lined up right and I felt like I had something to offer.
What’s something that people don’t know about you?
I cry easy. Forrest Gump always makes me cry. Some of those Hallmark kinds of commercials make me cry. I try to hide it. Gracie looks for it. She’ll say, “Are you crying?!”
How do you make your kids laugh?
They laugh when I dance. I can’t dance. They say I always stick my thumbs up. I’m a country singer, what do you expect? I can two-step. I can moonwalk! My daughters laugh at me, but I think it looks good.
Describe your life in one word.
Lucky. I’m a very lucky man.
FOR MORE ON TIM, GO TO PEOPLE.COM/TIM_MCGRAW