November 06, 2013 12:00 PM

Eric Gunderson

After the scare of his son’s premature birth, the singer is loving his time as a dad

After spending the first seven weeks of his life in intensive care, little Camden William seems determined to make up for lost time. “He’s probably the only baby in the world who doesn’t nap,” jokes mom Emily. When he gets home from touring, dad Eric doesn’t want to miss a moment either. “I have such little time at home that I don’t want to leave him with a sitter,” he says. “I want to spend time with him.”

That’s no surprise given his son’s fragile beginnings. Despite his mom’s healthy pregnancy, Camden was born two months early on March 10, weighing only 3 lbs. 8 oz., and was whisked away to the NICU. “You have this picture in your head of being the dad and driving home from the hospital with your new family,” says Gunderson. Instead, “we weren’t allowed to pick him up, he had so many cords. They showed us how to touch him, but I was afraid I might do something wrong and hurt him.”

Just days after Camden was born, Gunderson had to leave town again. Emily (whom Gunderson married in 2010) shuttled back and forth to the hospital twice a day for the baby’s 49-day stay. “I was thinking about them the whole time, afraid of what could happen,” says Gunderson, 28. When Eric wasn’t on the road, the couple camped out at the hospital, celebrating each new development and relishing every chance to parent. After three weeks of tube feeding, Camden had his first bottle. “I loved giving him bottles every chance I could,” Gunderson says. “And his diapers were so tiny—more like big Band-Aids!” Camden’s move to newborn diapers “was a big day,” Emily says. “But even those swallowed him up. He was all elbows and knees and had no meat on his bones.”

Now nicely plump, Camden is charming his parents with new achievements. “He started smiling the day after one of the last times I left,” Gunderson says. “It makes it even harder to leave.” In part that’s because the singer has been looking forward to fatherhood for so long. “I’d wanted a baby for a long time,” he says. “My dad was 20 when he had me, and it was fun growing up with a young dad. He was superactive, played sports with me, he coached. I didn’t want to be an older dad.” And he doesn’t even mind the crimps fatherhood has put in his rock star lifestyle. “Everybody says how much a baby will change your life, but what you don’t know is that you want that to happen,” he says. “You stop wanting to go out. I just want to come home, have my little family with me and be in our own little world.”

Stephen Barker Liles

Oh, baby, what a surprise! The singer’s expecting a son – just what he always wanted

When Liles learned last spring that fiancée Jenna Kennedy was having a baby, it was an unexpected – but happy – turn of events. “I was thrilled,” he says. “I’ve had a desire to have a child for a long time. It’s something that’s always been in my heart. And Jenna is going to be the best mother ever.”

Kennedy learned of the pregnancy by accident. While she was in for a checkup and unrelated blood tests, the doctor asked her if she knew she was pregnant. “All I could do was laugh,” says Kennedy, 26, a former nanny who’s studying to become a nurse. “There was no sense of anxiety at all, no fear or even an ‘Oops!’ ” Says Liles: “I knew it as soon as I saw her face. I was over the moon. I felt so much love for her.”

The couple first dated six years ago but got reacquainted later through Facebook. In May, Liles, 29, proposed. Since finding out about their new addition – a boy due in December – the parents-to-be are soaking up advice from former tourmate Jake Owen, whose wife and 10-month-old daughter came on the road with him (“He was always so happy, and his little girl is so cute,” Liles says) and tips from Gunderson and his wife. “Seeing Eric and Emily go early taught us to be prepared for anything,” he says.

Including taking their baby surprise in stride. “We’re expecting a child; we’re in love; we’re getting married. What could be wrong with that?” he says. “It’s God’s timing, not ours.”

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