By Jennifer Wulff
November 19, 2001 12:00 PM

With his four children hanging off him as he teaches them to swim in the backyard pool, it’s hard to remember that not so long ago Danny Wood was just a Kid himself. As one-fifth of the late-’80s sensation New Kids on the Block, Wood, now 32, saw his band land nine Top 10 singles and sell more than 55 million albums, a feat the Backstreet Boys matched just this year. “One day we were opening a show for Tiffany, and the next summer she was opening for us,” Wood says. “Nobody ever dreams of sold-out stadiums.”

These days the stage is smaller (“My kids are my biggest fans now,” says Wood), but music still earns him a living. Though he says he’s set for life from the millions he earned as a Kid, he released a dance album in 1999 called Room Full of Smoke, and a follow-up, Second Face, is now being shopped to labels.

Wood also produces tracks for other bands, such as LFO and C Note, and for fellow soloist and former Kid Joey McIntyre. “He’s passionate about everything he does,” says McIntyre, 28. “Back in the New Kid days we used to say he was the most dedicated and the one who worked the hardest, and he’s still doing that.”

“He was always the steady, consistent one of the group,” says best friend Donnie Wahlberg, 32, now an actor (Band of Brothers), like his brother Mark. The middle of six children of Elizabeth, an administrative assistant who died of breast cancer in 1999, and Daniel Sr., 59, a mail carrier, Wood was a studious 10th grader at Copley High School in Boston when record impresario Maurice Starr recruited him and classmate Wahlberg—along with McIntyre and brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight—to form the New Kids. Offered a scholarship to Boston University, Wood passed it up so he could keep playing with the band.

After four lean years, the New Kids saw their second album, 1988’s Hangin’ Tough, sell 8 million copies, turning all five into teen idols. “There were thousands of girls screaming for our attention,” says Wood. “It was bizarre.”

The adulation faded. By 1994 album sales had slid, and the Kids decided they’d been around the block once too often. “Everybody wanted to branch out and do their own thing,” says Wood. “We felt that our time was up.” The band broke up.

His two-year relationship with Elise Stepherson, a Boston hairdresser, was also coming to an end. In 1993 the couple split up, and a Massachusetts judge awarded custody of their infant son Daniel to Stepherson. “She was a good mother,” says Wood. “But I was home during the day, and she worked. I potty-trained him, weaned him off the bottle. I was like Mr. Mom.”

Wood’s own mother was then battling breast cancer. “That was the most difficult time of my life,” he says. “I was losing my mother and my son at the same time.”

In 1999, Wood and Stepherson entered into an agreement for joint custody of Daniel. Now 9, the boy spends summers in Boston with his mom and the rest of the year with his dad. Wood, wed since 1997 to Miami songwriter Patricia Alfaro, 30, whom he met at an Orlando music studio in 1996, is also dad to daughters Chance, 3, and Vega, 2, as well as Anthony, 9, Alfaro’s son from a previous marriage. “We’ve got a Brady Bunch situation,” says Wood, who now lives in Miami.

Like the Wahlbergs before him, Wood is also trying to make it as an actor. His most recent project, a short film called Deveria, was just entered in the Sundance Film Festival, and in March he starts shooting I-15, an action movie in which he plays a hit man. “He does whatever he makes up his mind to do,” says brother Brett, 29, a business analyst.

“Sometimes he’s a little bullheaded,” says former bandmate McIntyre. “I know how hard the custody battle was for him, and he’s really made an effort to settle down and make a life for himself.”

Wood agrees. “I prefer to be happy,” he says, “and I’ve found that with my family.”

Jennifer Wulff

Denise Sypesteyn in Miami and Sona Charaipotra in New York City