By Eileen Finan Kay West
April 10, 2013 12:00 PM

If you pull up to Jake Owen’s wooded retreat west of Nashville, you’ll still see a black Ford F250 diesel truck parked out front, jacked up as high as the one the singer drove in the video for his 2009 hit “Eight Second Ride.” But inside, things have definitely changed. If you hop on up in this truck, it’s not a dip cup you have to watch out for, it’s a car seat. And in the house, the singer is delivering an enthusiastic performance for an audience of one, pulling goofy faces at daughter Olive Pearl, who is cradled in the crook of his arm. “I don’t know many lullabies, but I make up songs for her and say silly words while I get real close to her face,” says Owen. “She loves that, and she smiles at me. Not even a sold-out show can compare to that!”

The singer’s new favorite fan arrived, fittingly, on Thanksgiving Day, capping off a transformational year for the 31-year-old Owen, who married wife Lacey in a sunrise ceremony last May. The couple met on the set of the “Eight Second Ride” video and fell for each other while filming his “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” video in 2011 (Lacey played his love interest in both). “Having a wife and daughter gives me a lot more purpose,” Owen says of his changed life. “I was much more selfish before, but now I think about what kind of role model I’ll be. I just want to be a better man.”

That means keeping up with dad duties, even when he’s on the road. “We do FaceTime on our iPhones, which is great,” says Owen, who had to return to his tour only five days after Pearl was born. “Lacey holds Pearl so I can see them both. I love saying Pearl’s name and seeing her respond, seeing her eyes get wider or a little smile, and I know she knows it’s me.” Before long they’ll be able to travel together as a family. “I’m building a bus with a baby bunk,” he says. “We’ll have the room for Lacey and Pearl to come with me and hang out.”

Still, the time apart can make home life with his girls all the sweeter. “I make the most of the time at home by just carrying Pearl around the house with me, doing whatever I do—puttering around, talking to her,” he says.

Mornings are extra special when they wake to the sound of Pearl laughing and cooing in the bassinet next to their bed. “Lacey nurses her, and all three of us will just lie there in bed together,” Owen says. “It’s like being in our own little cocoon. It’s hard to leave that comfort zone and get up.”

That togetherness is so appealing, in fact, that Pearl (so named in honor of Owen’s godmother) has yet to spend the night in her own room. “We spent so much time and money to make it comfortable and cute and a place she’d love,” Owen says of the nursery’s “earthy, natural” decor, which features a rustic wood wall, burlap curtains and a caramel-colored leather club chair. “But she sleeps better in our room, and it’s easier on Lacey when she’s right beside her. So we could put her in her own crib, or we can all get some sleep!”

Though they recently hired a nanny to help out a couple of days a week, they’re not quite ready for a baby-free date night. “We’ve thought about it a couple of times, but we just want to spend time with her,” the singer says. “It’s a three-way date now. She loves car rides, so we’ll take my truck and just drive and be together in our own world. Lacey and I talk and Pearl falls asleep.”

Even those simple, quiet moments fly by, he says, “and I look forward to every day and every single thing. I think about where she’ll go to school and what color her backpack will be. I think about what she’ll be when she grows up. I know time goes by so fast, and I wish there was a way to slow it down.”

While he can’t stop the clock, he is grateful for the “miracle” of their Thanksgiving gift. “For Lacey and I to be able to create another life that started with our love never stops amazing me,” he says. “My reality is a dream that’s come true.”