A Brantley Gilbert show is a rowdy affair — hard-driving guitars, pyrotechnics, a throng of dedicated fans, his BG Nation, ready to party. But these days, one of the country rocker’s favorite performances is a quiet set for an audience of one: new son Barrett Hardy-Clay, born Nov. 11.
And the 6-month-old already has special requests. “He seems to dig ‘Jesus Loves Me’ pretty good,” the “Bottoms Up” singer tells PEOPLE of the hymn. “And I know there’s gonna be people reading this that go, ‘I cannot imagine that dude singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to a child. That’s almost like a horror movie!’” Of course, Gilbert says, in his nightly lullaby concerts for Barrett, “I also gotta sing him a little bit of Skynyrd.”
But despite his biker-tough, tattooed exterior, Gilbert says he’s nothing but a softie as a dad, even before Barrett was born. “I never missed an appointment with the baby doctor and I got to see every ultrasound,” Gilbert says. “And every time the little man would come up on the screen, we’d hear his heartbeat and, snap your fingers, it was like I was watching The Notebook for the freaking first time!”
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Fatherhood, Gilbert says, has been “a love like I’ve never known.” After facing fertility struggles, the singer and his wife, Amber Cochran, were especially grateful for their “miracle baby,” who’s already on the road with Gilbert on his The Ones That Like Me tour.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to have him and Amber on the road with me, even if it means spending two hours a day loading the bus before you leave and when you get home — you gotta pick up his whole little life and move it!” he says. “But having the opportunity to bring them is amazing.”
When they are back home, Gilbert treasures his nighttime routine with Barrett: “I rock him and, my wife gets mad at me for it, but I’ll see if I can wake him up just a little bit so I can see his eyes one more time and see if I can get one more smile out of him.”
Among his other go-tos for Barrett’s bedtime lullabies is a new tune, “The Man That Hung the Moon,” which he wrote for his upcoming album. It’s a song, he says, that acknowledging that while his son may idolize him now, one day he’ll know Gilbert’s not perfect.
Someday, he says, Barrett will learn about his “dad’s “bumpy” past and his battle with alcohol and opiate addiction: “At some point, he’ll actually look things up on the internet and find out that, ‘Hey, my dad’s not quite a superhero. He was quite the opposite there for a minute.’ Man, I’m dreading that.”
But Gilbert says he hopes when Barrett knows his full story, he’ll also realize how far his dad has come. “I hope he goes, ‘Oh well, my dad started making some different decisions even before I came into the picture.’”
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Until then, Barrett and his dad have many more bedtimes together, and the musician tells PEOPLE he’s enjoying every one.
“One of my favorite things in the world is after I get that last smile, I put him to my shoulder and he nuzzles up,” he says. “Being that safe place for him, that place where he’s comfortable enough to fall asleep without a worry in the world, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
For more from Gilbert on his addiction, recovery, music and home life with his wife and son, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.