For Kevin Costner, Father’s Day “started early with a little hug that kind of scared me. It was my eight-year-old, Grace,” he recalls with a smile. Kevin’s been a megastar for more than 30 years, but fatherhood with his seven children keep his feet on the ground.

“You get great letters from them [on Father’s Day], and I can see how they’re evolving,” says the proud dad. “Little Grace ended her letter with, ‘Your best child.'” Kevin laughs and adds, “We’re going to have to talk about empathy and we’re going to talk about perspective a little bit.”

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If anyone can teach Grace and her siblings the important life lessons, it’s their dad. Despite hits like Bull Durham and Dances With Wolves on his résumé, he hasn’t let fame go to his head. “Movies are magic, and they’ve always been magic to me,” says Kevin, 63. “You get to play heroes in the movies, but there’s a moment in time where you’re just a father and you get to go home.” He adds, “I have played two roles in my life, one I get paid to do, which is the movies, and the other one is being a father, for which I’ll be rewarded my whole life.”

John Coinman, Kevin’s bandmate in their group Modern West, also gushes Closer about Kevin’s role as a father. “He was raised with those strong family and moral values,” he says. “He has a great sense of humor about himself and about the world, and he’s a great father. His younger kids really adore his older kids, and he’s been able to incorporate both families together.”

Kevin married his college sweetheart, Cindy Silva, in 1978, and they have three kids, Annie, 34, Lily, 31, and Joe, 30. Though he and Cindy divorced in 1994, they’re still friends and he’s close with their children. “I feel really good about the kind of dad I was the first time around,” Kevin says. “I was there for all the little moments, like when my kids forgot to sing in their school play because they were too busy waving at me.”

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Following the divorce, which he says was painful, “I never wanted to go through it again,” he sowed some wild oats: “I was like the classic single guy — who do I love this week, who next week?” He had a son, Liam, now 21, with girlfriend Bridget Rooney, but he didn’t remarry until he met Christine Baumgartner, a model and handbag designer, in 1998. “When I met Christine, I wasn’t prepared to be in love again,” he admits. “It took me a long time before I said ‘I love you’ to her.”

If he has a regret in life it’s his divorce and the toll it took. “Fear kept me from marrying Christine,” he says. “[She] wanted a child, but I was afraid I couldn’t be an effective father.” But after dating for four years, “I woke up and thought, Am I going to lose a beautiful woman who is willing to be with me to my very last breath because I am afraid to say yes to a child?” he says. “That’s all it took.” Now he and Christine, 44, have three kids: Cayden, 11, Hayes, 9, and Grace. Kevin says, “Sometimes you learn the thing you’re most afraid of will save your life.”

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