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July 08, 2015 04:00 PM

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner: After 10 years and three kids, what went wrong? Subscribe now for the REAL story behind the split, only in PEOPLE.

Despite his divorce from Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck always wanted to be a family man, according to their friends.

“Ben wanted children and a family his whole life,” one pal tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “He didn’t grow up with a present father, so his biggest fear was being the dad that only saw his kids on the weekends. He never wanted that.”

The Boston-bred actor, 42, had a less than traditional childhood, raised by his single mom, Christine, after a divorce from his father, who struggled with alcohol problems. “He didn’t want to be a dad like his own father was,” the friend adds. “But he had some sad and lonely times in his marriage, so he pulled away from his family.”

While Garner, 42, embraced domesticity in L.A., friends of the former couple say Affleck did appreciate her as a stabilizing force for their kids, Violet, 9, Seraphina, 6, and Samuel, 3. “Ben wanted what Jen represented, which was stability and family and consistency and love,” says a longtime friend of Garner’s.

Affleck “was a family man when he could be,” adds another friend. “And his kids adore him. He traveled a lot, but when he is with the kids, he’s really with them. And there is nothing more important to Jen than being a good mom.”

On Tuesday, Affleck flew to Atlanta to see their kids, who have been with Garner while she is shooting her next film, Miracles from Heaven.

“The minute he could get on a plane to see his kids, he did,” adds a source close to both. “It’s important. He wants them to be stable.”

Reporting by ELIZABETH MCNEIL and AILI NAHAS

For more on why Affleck and Garner decided to end their marriage, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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