"Kacey actually does have a voice, but she's Mama so she can do whatever she wants! You don't give mom rules - that's rule number one. You let moms give you the rules."

By peoplestaff225
November 09, 2012 06:00 PM

Brian Doben

Home is where the … baby is?

Two years into their marriage, Mike Eli and his wife Kacey finally feel settled into their living space — and they credit it all to the arrival of daughter Kline Olivia.

“It’s been me, my wife and our dogs in the house since we got married, but when we brought Kline home it really changed the dynamic in so many ways,” the musician tells PEOPLE Country in its latest issue.

“The house definitely feels more like a home now that she’s here.”

The transition from newlywed life to baby bliss hasn’t always been easy — the proud parents are feeling the effects of sleepless nights! — but when it comes to caring for his daughter, the first-time father hasn’t missed a beat.

“I really didn’t want to mess it up, but your instincts kick in,” he says. “I’m not going to lie — I was incredibly nervous and made some mistakes here and there, but you figure it out.”

Taking it day by day (and night!) with their baby girl, it’s been a guessing game for the couple as they learn to adjust to the needs of a newborn.

Recently, after testing out several unsuccessful sleeping arrangements, Mike and Kacey discovered their best bet would be a tag-team effort each night.

“Since you’re half-awake in the middle of the night, we decided we might as well just both get up,” he says. “Then we’re happier people, we’re happier with each other. It gets done more quickly … We decided our marriage needed us both to get up together.”

But the Eli Young Band frontman hasn’t always had to rely on the dynamic duo; Despite years of performing in the spotlight, parenting in front of an audience can take its toll.

“One of my first times burping Kline, Kacey was talking to me, telling me what I need to do and I’m looking up at her,” Mike recalls. “Then Kacey giggles and I realize I’m patting the back of [Kline’s] head instead of her back.”

Unfortunately, the doting dad has yet to live down his momentary burping blunder. “It’s one of those things she’s giving me a hard time about,” he shares with a laugh. “I know you have to pat the back and not the head! I was like, ‘You’re making me nervous! Go away!'”

All of his hard work — baby bloopers and all — have already paid off for the country crooner, who was granted the gift of his girl’s first smile minutes before heading out on tour.

“I was holding her about 30 minutes before I was leaving and it was the first time she had a responsive laugh,” he recalls. “We had this moment … I was talking to her and tickling her chin. It was nice right before I had to leave for seven days.”

Currently out on the road with the band, Mike — who is able to still see Kline on camera — has been missing his little one more than ever. Fortunately, with three other bandmates on the bus, there are plenty of opportunities to gush about his daughter.

“I’m pretty sure the guys are sick of my poop stories. All I’m ever talking about is baby stuff and a lot of the time they are incredibly nice about it,” he says.

However, they all may be singing a different tune behind his back. “I’m sure that when I walk out of the room they’re like, ‘Oh, great! Now we can talk about something else!'” Mike says with a laugh.

Already sporting a full head of “really spiky” hair and perfecting her papa’s signature stares, there’s no denying Kline is turning into Mike’s mini-me.

“She’s definitely my kid. When I wake up, I can’t open both eyes for 10 or 15 minutes,” he explain. “The other morning, Kacey and her mom were laughing at me — Kline’s looking to the side with her left eye closed and her right eye halfway opened and I was doing the same thing.”

While 3-month-old Kline may already have her dad wrapped around her finger, when it comes to the homefront, Kacey rules the roost.

Brian Doben

“I sing to [Kline] as much as I can and I make sure that whoever is holding her is not singing to her unless they’re singing correctly,” he jokes.

“Kacey actually does have a voice, but she’s Mama so she can do whatever she wants! You don’t give Mom rules — that’s rule number one. You let Mom give you the rules.”

Content with where life has taken him, Mike admits he has wanted to be a family man for a long time. Now that his dreams have come true, he’s embracing each day with his tight-knit trio.

“A lot of people tell you that they can’t explain [fatherhood] because no one can know that feeling until you actually hold your child for the first time. It’s even better than you think it is,” he notes.

“I’ve always wanted to be a father. I never had that moment where I thought I’d wait forever or loved having no responsibility. I’ve always looked forward to having kids.”

For more on Mike Eli and other country stars, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE Country, on sale now. And to download free holiday music from Brad Paisley, Scotty McCreery and Lady Antebellum go to PEOPLE.com/free.

— Anya Leon with reporting by Danielle Anderson