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Garth Brooks: How Spaghetti Helped Win Over Trisha Yearwood

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Garth Brooks on the cover of PEOPLE

After retiring from music in 2000 to raise his daughters, country star Garth Brooks is back and opening up about the drama behind his decision. Subscribe now to find out what he learned in those 14 years away in this exclusive PEOPLE interview.

Raising his three daughters in a one-bathroom bunkhouse on his ranch in Oklahoma, Garth Brooks admits he had limited culinary skills.

Meals he prepared were simple, like spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and chicken strips. “Those were pretty much staples,” he says of cooking for daughters Taylor, August and Allie from his first marriage to Sandy Mahl.

“But I made sure to tell their mom, too. I said, ‘Look, so when they’re at your place, if you can think of different things [to feed them], that’d be great.’ ”

But Brooks allows that it was a spaghetti dinner “that changed our world.” As a single father, he tried to have fun with his girls “because I don’t care who you are, dads are never as fun as moms,” he adds. “They’re just not.”

During the first summer together after his retirement, Brooks had an idea. “We’re having spaghetti again, and we were holding hands, saying our prayer, and when it’s over, I said, ‘Don’t eat yet,’ and they’re like, ‘What?’ ” he recalls.

“I said, ‘Just take your fork in your right hand. Okay, we’re going to beat it against the table three times then I want you to throw your fork over your shoulder.’ I said, ‘It’s okay.’ Beat it, beat it, and they hurled those forks, I mean just threw ’em. ‘What do we do now?’ I said, ‘Now, you eat like a dog.’ ”

Brooks continues: “I took the oldest one’s head and just put it right down [into the plate],” he says laughing. “They ate like dogs and had the best time and then we went out and jumped in the pool.”

The tradition even served as an icebreaker when Brooks first brought Trisha Yearwood, whom he married in 2005, to have dinner with his daughters. “The girls said, ‘We want to eat like dogs again, Dad.’ Taylor reached over and took Trisha’s head and before I knew it, bam!” he says. “The whole table went silent. We were like, ‘Oh, crap.’ ”

“Yearwood was fantastic, though. She came up with a noodle across her forehead and she just reached right back over and just pow! She popped little Auggie’s head right down. It was on from there!”

Fans can catch Brooks on the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS on April 19, where he’s up for what could be his seventh Entertainer of the Year Award (vote here).

For more of Brooks’s exclusive interview – and to see his personal family photos – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday