Life is good for Cameron Mathison. In July, the former All My Children hunk landed his “ultimate” job cohosting Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family. “I feel like I can spend the rest of my life on this show,” Cameron, 49, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.

He’s just returned from a surprise Southeast Asia “dream vacation” he planned for his wife, Vanessa, and their daughter, Leila, 12, and son, Lucas, 15 — and he still has a busy acting career. Cameron’s following up his recent Murder, She Baked TV movies with three more Hallmark Channel films this year.

But things haven’t always been smooth sailing for Cameron. During his early childhood in Sarnia, Canada, he was diagnosed with Legg-Perthes disease, a hip disorder that limits the range of motion in the hip joint.

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“My mom was a nurse, so she noticed that I was sort of hobbling a bit when I was 2-and-a-half,” Cameron shared. “I slept and walked with a big leg brace and crutches for over four years. If she hadn’t caught it when she did, I could’ve been walking funny for my whole life.”

Yet Cameron said his early trials inspired him to achieve greater things, as has his family. “When you become a dad, this little stranger becomes the most important thing in the world,” he told Closer. “Then you recognize how putting other people before yourself feels so much more fulfilling.” Scroll down for our exclusive Q&A interview with Cameron! 

You’ve starred in dozens of TV movies and series, yet many fans still remember you as Ryan Lavery from your 1998–2011 run on All My Children. How did it happen?

My whole career is made up of achievements that I never thought I could do. I was just a new actor living in Toronto. I went down to New York for the weekend, saw some friends, got in for a quick audition and I booked All My Children. Another dream was to work on Good Morning America and when I did it and Entertainment Tonight, that was a massive milestone.

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Any favorite memory from the soap?

I do have one. It was December 15, 1997. I’d just started the show and only had a couple days before the Christmas break began. I remember the unbelievably magical feeling of having my first job in New York City on this iconic soap opera. It was Christmas in New York and there was snow on the ground, it was just this magical sensory overload of joy and appreciation and gratitude.

You have a college degree in engineering. How’d you end up acting?

That’s a good question because it’s kind of bizarre. I worked summers when I was studying — I had a fence company, a deck company with my brother. Then one day I just met this person at a bar who said, “You should try modeling. Here’s the number of my agent.” That led to commercials and taking classes as an actor, and then I got All My Children.

Do you have any regrets about things you did or didn’t do?

People say, “I have no regrets.” And I feel that, while shame gets you stuck, regret propels you to who you want to be. Back in those days, I just used to take my shirt off all the time in appearances. I regret little things like that, where it fed into the whole beefcake kind of thing. I feel like there was a balance there that I probably went, whoop, way over.

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I don’t think anyone complained! But on a more serious note, how did your Legg-Perthes disease affect you later in life?

When I was finally able to use my legs, I became super active, probably just to make up for being the “crippled kid,” because people stared. I probably, on some level, identified with being that kid for a lot of my life. I definitely overdid it with activities. But as I get a bit older, hopefully, a bit wiser, you learn that you’re not your limitations and you don’t have to identify with them. You learn to identify with your potential and who you want to be, what you can do.

That’s great to hear. Do you have any lingering health issues from it?

There’s a chance I may have to get a hip replacement as a younger man. I’m an active guy, which helps to keep [my muscles stronger]. I went for a checkup a couple of years ago, just to get X-rays, and the guy was like, “If you didn’t tell me you had Legg-Perthes, I would have never have guessed.”

Any other ways it’s shaped you?

You learn that you can choose what you want to identify with. Like, I’m a loving, compassionate guy and a good father. The schedule on Home & Family is great for being a family guy. I’ll still be doing some travel with Hallmark movies, but coming back to the happiness factor, it’s a very upbeat, feel-good show. We try to spread goodness in the world through empowering stories.

That’s so nice to hear! You’ve been married to Vanessa for 17 years. What’s your secret?

For me, it’s carving out time to spend together. Date nights, even at-home date nights, we love doing. And then we like quick little weekend getaways once in a while.

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Has it all been smooth sailing?

About nine years ago, our marriage was in a rocky place. One way a couple can get through that is to take responsibility for your part in a disagreement or dysfunction and avoid blaming. The other thing we try to do is deeply cherish each other — care about each other’s happiness actively. I feel like it keeps our relationship sacred. There were incredible benefits to working on our mind and meditating.

You seem like such a genuine, happy person. What do you attribute that to?

That means a lot to me because I’ve worked at it through the years. I practice meditation every day — it’s helped me stay positive and see the glass as half full.

What’s the secret to being happy?

The key is not being happy only when things are going well. It’s training yourself to find ways to stay peaceful, kind, respectful and upbeat when they aren’t, and that’s inevitable.

How would you describe your life today?

It’s the happiest time in my life. I have a job that makes me happier than any I’ve done. My kids are happy, healthy, loving their schools and still connected to me. My relationship with Vanessa is as good as it’s ever been. It’s the right combination of being grateful for things falling into place as they have been, and spiritually being in as good a place as I ever have.

For more on Cameron Mathison, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!