July 30, 2012 12:00 PM

It was the kind of family outing Tom Cruise would have loved. But while his ex Katie Holmes spent July 13 treating the couple’s 6-year-old daughter Suri to face painting and stuffed animals at Manhattan toy mecca FAO Schwarz, Cruise was nearly 3,000 miles away on the June Lake, Calif., set of Oblivion and hadn’t seen his daughter in almost a month. Keeping to himself at times and appearing “stressed,” according to an observer, the actor seemed to relax during a visit from his son Connor, 17, his nephew Cal and a few other family members. “He said hi to everyone he passed,” says a set source. “He was very positive and focused.”

This is coping, Cruise-style. Devastated after Holmes filed for divorce, the 50-year-old megastar managed to maintain his famous composure, soldiering through the final days of shooting Oblivion as scheduled. It hasn’t been easy. After Holmes, 33, stunned him with a divorce filing that led to a settlement just 11 days later, life as Cruise knew it came crashing down in painfully public fashion. Toughest of all has been the separation from his “lovely” daughter, as he fondly described Suri to PEOPLE just before their last visit in Iceland on June 16. “He loves Suri intensely,” says a source who knows the former couple, “and he misses his little girl.” Cruise and Suri have been talking daily, and on July 17 he flew overnight from L.A. to New York to visit her at last.

Why did it take a full month for father and daughter to reunite? “He’s wanted to see her as fast as possible since this started,” says the source, citing his obligation to Oblivion as the main obstacle: “He couldn’t shut down production, cost people their jobs. People count on him.” Having coordinated with Holmes’s camp on the visit, the actor planned to take Suri to her usual outings, including gymnastics and art lessons. The two exes “understand that they are going to have to talk to one another for the next many, many years,” says the source. “They are going to have to talk, and that’s always been his intention-for it to be amicable and to be in his daughter’s life.” That’s Holmes’s wish too. “Katie’s immediate concern is for Suri,” says another source close to the situation.

With Holmes awarded primary custody and Cruise granted generous visitation rights, “he will have a meaningful relationship with Suri,” his longtime lawyer and friend Bert Fields tells PEOPLE. In agreeing to the speedy settlement, “Tom tried his best to do what’s right for Suri,” says Fields-and not, as some have speculated, because he was trying to prevent leaks about his personal life: “Tom is not hiding anything.”

He’s not about to conceal his Scientology beliefs either. “Tom is not ashamed of his beliefs and won’t hide them from his daughter,” says the source who knows the former couple. Despite reports, Holmes has not joined a Catholic congregation in New York, though she has “checked out places where she might be comfortable,” says the source close to the situation.

Privately, Cruise has expressed only grief, not anger, over the sudden end of his five-year marriage. “I don’t find Tom bitter,” says Fields. “He’s sad about the situation.” Cruise was unaware of Holmes’s deep unhappiness until it was too late. At first “he was thinking, ‘What did I not see?'” says the source who knows Cruise. But as the news sank in, “he went from that place to figuring out how he’s going to care for his daughter.”

Holmes, meanwhile, has been carefully building a new life in New York for herself and Suri, mixing child-friendly adventures with a routine of lessons and grocery shopping as family and friends lend support (see page 50). “I’m not surprised they are still doing zoo trips and bedtime stories,” says Cynthia Ford, a Toledo acquaintance who has known the Holmes family for years. “Balance is a good word to describe the family. It looks like Katie puts family before career, and her parents are the same way.”

For both Cruise and Holmes, protecting Suri is a top priority. (While a divorce is tough on any kid, Scientology places particular emphasis on protecting children from negative emotions.) Cruise is also concerned about the effect of the split on his older children with ex-wife Nicole Kidman, Connor and 19-year-old Isabella. “He thought of them all as a unit,” says the source who knows the former couple, noting that the older kids have not spoken to Holmes since the split. Others counter that Holmes needs to focus on Suri. Though she bonded with her stepchildren, “during her entire time with Tom, it was never lost on anyone that [Connor and Bella] do have a mother,” says the source close to the situation, “and her name is Nicole.”

As he has in the past, Cruise is leaning on his inner circle for support (see sidebar). Always tight with his mom, Mary Lee, and sisters Lee Anne, Cass and Marian, Cruise told PEOPLE in early June of life at his bustling Beverly Hills estate, “My older children are around, and my nieces, nephews, my sisters and their families. They all love Suri.” Whether playing Scrabble and Yahtzee together or “running around the yard kicking soccer balls,” Cruise gushed that he was “enjoying every second with Suri that I have.”

Cruise saw his marriage, his extended family and his Scientology beliefs as interwoven. His relatives and staffers are almost all Scientologists, as is his closest friend, church leader David Miscavige. “Nothing is more important to Tom than his family,” says a Scientology source. “Studying Scientology helped him to deepen the relationships that are important to him.” But his ever-present support system was also part of what soured Holmes on the marriage. With Cruise away from home almost half of last year on movie sets, “Katie was like, ‘I’m living with your sisters and not you,'” says a source who knows Holmes’s inner circle.

And yet when Cruise and Holmes found windows to relax together with their little girl, times were good. Last fall at Soergel Orchards in Wexford, Pa., near the set of Cruise’s film Jack Reacher, the trio enjoyed a corn maze and a wagon ride. With no paparazzi in sight, “Tom and Katie held hands while they watched Suri play in the straw,” says staffer Katie Morrison. “It was very sweet.” Even as he mourns the loss of such moments in Suri’s future, Cruise is committed-along with Holmes-to ensuring that she knows she is still the center of her parents’ world. “Tom wants to make sure that she is happy,” says the source who knows the former couple, “and knows they both love her.”

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