Ralph Macchio on Being a 'Nerd Dad' — and How Fatherhood Is About 'Skinning Your Knees'

"Part of the beauty of the success of Cobra Kai is how much my kids are enjoying it," he tells PEOPLE

Ralph Macchio plays a father of two in the hit Netflix series Cobra Kai — and it's a role he plays off-screen, too.

More than three decades after he became a teen idol in 1984's Karate Kid — the age-defying star, 59, was actually 22 at the time — the actor is now embracing a new generation of fandom thanks to the success of Cobra Kai, which debuted its third season on Jan. 1. His real-life son Daniel, 25 (yes, named after his character!), and Julia, 28, are among those fans.

"Part of the beauty of the success of Cobra Kai is how much my kids are enjoying it," he tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "To bring something that was such a big part of my life 35 years ago, and see it be such a present part of their lives today, it's really wonderful." But, he adds, "I'm still a nerd dad!"

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Ralph Macchio with his wife Phyllis, son Daniel and daughter Julia. Michael Schwartz

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Macchio credits his wife of 33 years, nurse practitioner Phyllis Fierro, and their children with helping him maintain a "one foot in, one foot out" approach to Hollywood.

"Without her and without the foundation and the family we established, 'one foot in, one foot out' would have been very, very difficult on my own," he says. "Because there would not be balance."

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Ralph Macchio photographed for PEOPLE in December. Michael Schwartz

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But he also acknowledges the challenges of parenting.

"You're skinning your knees like it's the second day of first grade," he says. "'Failing' is probably the wrong word, but you are learning all the time through the journey."

"Everything I do now, more often than 10, 15 years ago, I'm thinking of it for the sake of my children as they're getting older," he adds. "They're adults, but they're always your kids."

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