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Aaron Tippin balances second-time fame with third-time fatherhood

 Story by Chris Neal • Photo by Tim Campbell

Aaron Tippin leans on the bed of his pickup truck, parked near one of the barns on his Middle Tennessee farm. He gazes across the field. "Most folks that come down here realize I'm just the next hillbilly over the hill," he says with a smile. "I'm probably not as good a 'star' as I should be, I guess."

Aaron's infant son and namesake, Thomas Aaron, naps soundly in a car seat perched on the open tailgate. Aaron is an old hand at fatherhood - his daughter Charla is 23, and first son Teddy is three - but a new baby still takes some getting used to.

"Not long ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't find the baby," he says. "I thought we'd lost him. I was sleepwalking, trying to find him - but he had been laying right there beside me. Every parent does dumb stuff like that. You'll wake up in the middle of the night and say, 'Is the baby still breathing?' "

Actually, Thomas' breathing had been of great concern soon after his birth - he had a bout with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). "It's a respiratory infection that infants get, and it's a pretty serious thing if it gets too far," explains Aaron. "But he had a mild case - it wasn't too bad, and now he's doing great. He's healthy, and man, he's a whole lot fatter than Ted was!"

Aaron and wife Thea were also much better prepared for Thomas than they had been for Teddy, who buzzes across the field nearby with his yellow toy fishing pole in hand and his mother trailing behind him.

"Teddy was a shock to us," admits Aaron. "I hadn't been a dad in 20 years, and that was new and interesting and different, and now it's a whole lot calmer than it was last time."

And while Teddy was initially a little jealous of all the attention given the Tippins' new addition, he got over that pretty quickly. "Ted loves on Tom and hugs on him," says a smiling Aaron. "He's just as good a big brother as you'd ever want to see."

With a loving family gathered around him, Aaron's life seems utterly tranquil. Aaron and Thea built their elegantly rustic home on a steep hill nearby about six years ago. They were attracted to the area by its proximity to Nashville - an hour away, not too near and not too far - and its similarity to the rural South Carolina area where Aaron grew up.

"There's a long hollow not far away that's really beautiful," Aaron says, pointing westward. "It reminds me of a spot back in Marietta, S.C. That's why I wanted to move here, I think."

Amid the peace and quiet, you'd hardly guess that within a few hours Aaron will be on a plane, headed out to play yet another pulse-pounding live gig. He admits that going from home to stage is a whiplash-inducing change of pace that's gotten harder for Aaron since Thomas' birth.

"I definitely want to stay at home more these days," he admits. "It's tough to get me away from the house now. Especially last week - when I was getting ready to leave, Ted cried. He hadn't done that in a while. I realize we've got to go do shows, but that really breaks you up."

Nonetheless, Aaron has no intention of giving up the spotlight. "I still love to go out and play, and see folks smiling and appreciating music," he says. "They're about the only reason I climb on that bus and leave this farm. That's a thrill I hope I never get over."

Fans have been pretty thrilled with him lately, too. Last year "Kiss This," a song he and Thea wrote together, became his first No. 1 hit in five years. His latest album, People Like Us, has gone gold, and he recently enjoyed another Top 20 hit with the title track.

And he's not about to rest on his laurels: Aaron is already writing and looking for songs for the next album. "I just keep narrowing them down, listening to song after song after song and saying, 'That's pretty cool,' or throwing them out."

His guidelines for choosing which tunes make the cut is simple. "They should be great songs, that's all," he says, "something good to listen to."

But while Aaron's commitment to pleasing fans should keep his career firing on all cylinders well into the future, his family will always come first. That's a lesson he learned from his father, whose career as a pilot kept him from having a close relationship with his son - until fate intervened.

"My dad was a traveler from the day I was born," says Aaron. "He was gone most of my youth. Then, when I was 10 years old, he crashed an airplane - a real severe crash that almost killed him."

Unable to fly, Aaron's dad turned to farming - and at last spending quality time with his son. "That was what really brought us together," says Aaron. "I got to know my dad like I never would have had the chance to if it hadn't been for that plane wreck. That's where we really went from just being father and son to being friends."

It's obvious that Aaron has already started building that kind of relationship with his sons, and is having a blast doing it.

"These kids," he says, shaking his head with a smile, "they're just fun! There ain't no telling what they're going to do next. I just love being Dad!"

Published on: June 29, 2001

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Jun 29, 2001

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