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The Grateful Dad

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The latest Hollywood baby boom has led some key leading men to set aside their solo ways and settle into patty-cake days and rockabye nights. Masculine pride is bursting out all over the place. (Boasts Ally McBeal’s Gil Bellows of his little one: “She’s funny, she’s cute. I feel very blessed and highly recommend it.”) There’s also a note of awed humility from unexpected places. (“When I look into my daughter’s eyes, I get very sentimental,” says Bon Jovi’s hard-rocking guitarist Richie Sambora, “because I know that childhood is so fleeting.”) Even the toughest guys have come down with a bad case of the cutes. (Of his infant, Christian Slater coos, “We call him the little scoodle bug.”) And in the midst of good times and dad times, the stork isn’t the only one working overtime. Says Stargate SG-1’s Richard Dean Anderson: “I must have nearly four dozen different photos of my daughter in my trailer. I have an account now at the local photo lab. Boy, do they see the sucker in me!” With Father’s Day upon us, some first-time celebrity dads spoke up about their bundles of joy.

Richard Dean Anderson with daughter Wylie

Notwithstanding his square-jawed machismo in the sci-fi series Stargate SG-1 or his previous hit MacGyver, Anderson declares, “I make a pretty good mother.” But bottles and Gymboree aren’t the only joys Anderson, 49, has known as daddy to Wylie, born Aug. 2 to his longtime girlfriend, Apryl Prose, 32. One day at the beach, Wylie seemed truly to recognize him for the first time: “She could remember me, and it’s like she’s thinking, ‘Here comes that fun guy to play with me.’ ” Anderson, who previously squired skater Katarina Witt and actress Sela Ward and spent his free time hiking and biking, realized he had grown tired of his solo act. “Now, rather than live the lonely-man experience,” he says, “I do everything with a little hand in mine.”

Gil Bellows with daughter Ava

The Ally McBeal costar took childbirth so seriously he did everything but deliver his daughter Ava Emmanuelle himself. Actually he did that too, with the help of a midwife. “I was the first person to see Ava’s head come out,” says Bellows, 31, whose wife is actress Rya Kihlstedt, 29. Bellows, who cut the umbilical cord, had studied up on pregnancy so thoroughly that he could tell Rya what was going on inside her body at each stage. “I felt like Professor Gil,” he says, laughing. The couple decided to have a home birth in part because Rya’s mom had had no problems in labor. Indeed, when the big moment came on April 4, Ava “just scooted out,” Bellows recalls. “She was like, ‘I’m here already, let me take care of the rest.’ ”

Richie Sambora with daughter Ava

Master of his professional rock and roll domain, guitarist Sambora is proud of his new domestic specialty. “I’m well-versed in Barney,” says Sambora, 39, who learned the purple dinosaur’s “I love you, you love me” theme song soon after daughter Ava Elizabeth was born to his wife, Heather Locklear, on Oct. 4,1997. At first, Sambora took to parenting with the aplomb of Kathie Lee Gifford doing a guitar solo. “I was putting on diapers backwards,” he confesses. But now that he can fasten Pampers in 20 seconds, he’s on to the next phase of parenting: bragging. “Ava’s got an excellent vocabulary,” he says. “One day she went from having that vague look to actually communicating.” With the air of a guy who has known his share of thrills, he adds, “That was really, really exciting.”

Christian Slater with son Jaden

The Broken Arrow star has taken a few tumbles in life, but having a baby may have finally stopped him from acting like one. “It was just such an emotional moment,” Slater says of the April 6 birth of Jaden Christopher to his fiancée, TV producer Ryan Haddon, 28. “It’s been such a miracle in my life, after all the things that I’ve been through in the past few years.” Clean since he spent 59 days in jail in early 1998 on drug and battery charges for striking a former girlfriend, Slater, 29, attends sobriety meetings daily in New York City. “He’s blossomed,” says his mother, Mary Jo Slater, 53, a Hollywood casting director. Having been 13 when his half-brother Ryan was born, Christian has had a bit of experience with babies. Still, says Mary Jo, Christian has changed. “The baby is something he’s been looking for but didn’t realize,” she says. “Purpose—now he has a purpose in life.”