"I was 24 when I started my first batch. I was still becoming a man," Empire's Terrence Howard says of his first foray into fatherhood

By Patrick Gomez
March 22, 2017 09:05 AM

Terrence Howard can’t help but gush about his little boys.

“See what we have, two strapping young men,” the Empire star, 48, tells PEOPLE while watching his sons Quirin, 22 months, and Hero, 7 months, play poolside in a Southern California backyard.

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Credit: Koury Angelo

Becoming a dad to Quirin and Hero — his sons with third wife, Mira, whom he wed in 2013 — was not Howard’s first foray into parenthood. He has three grown children — Aubrey, 23, Hunter, 21, and Heaven, 19 — with his first wife, Lori.

“I was 24 when I started my first batch. I was still becoming a man,” Howard says of being a young father. “I didn’t really put the time in to my kids. I called them every day and they said they saw me more than enough, but I feel like I missed out on a lot of personal time with them. Now I’m more conscious and present this time around.”

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Credit: Koury Angelo

“Consciousness” is a state of being that Howard and Mira have made a priority for their family. That includes teaching his “second batch” the value of every living thing.

“He refuses to kill a fly,” Mira, 39, says of Howard. “And we’re trying to teach our kids not to pick flowers.”

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Credit: Koury Angelo

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“I know in those two weeks or month of a fly’s life, that’s 80 years for them. And we smash them so quickly,” explains Howard, who says he found “truth” in nature after forgoing organized religion a few years ago. “I hope if someone saw me trapped, some bigger creature would help me.”

“If everyone on this planet just acted like a blade of grass, this would be a beautiful place. A blade of grass only takes what it needs. And if you break it, it doesn’t spend its time cursing you out and trying to hurt you in return, it just keeps growing,” he says. “We all have growing to do.”

Empire returns Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.

For more from Terrence Howard, including why he thinks his third wife will be the one to last, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.