Garth Brooks walked away from a massive country career to raise his daughters, and he insists he wouldn't have traded those years for anything.

The country icon retired in 2000, after he and his first wife, Sandy, divorced and his mother passed away. He settled with his daughters — Taylor, 22, August, 20, and Allie, 18 — in a one-bathroom bunkhouse on his ranch in Oklahoma, where he devoted his full-time attention to raising them.

He admits it was a big adjustment at first. "I'd just stare at them," he tells People magazine. "I knew their sweet faces and their dispositions. But I didn't know who they were."

But as time went by, they settled in both as a family, and in him being away from the spotlight.

"You start being a part of the community," Brooks says. "The dads across the soccer field looked at me as a dad just like them. And I was very grateful."

Brooks released a few sporadic singles and played some Vegas dates, but he did not tour for 14 years as he fulfilled his promise to his girls. He says kids "are the greatest joy and the greatest heartache you'll ever have. The saying is, as long as your babies are healthy, everything else you can deal with. If they have Ds, if they flunk, you deal with it. You can introduce them to the Lord, teach them manners, teach them to believe in themselves, but the truth is, they're going to be who they're going to be."

Now that his youngest his graduated high school, all of Brooks' kids have begun their own lives, and he and his wife, Trisha Yearwood, kicked off an enormous world tour last year that has been selling out multiple nights in most markets. Brooks also released a new studio album, Man Against Machine, late last year. He's up for what could be his seventh Entertainer of the Year win at the upcoming ACM Awards, but just because they're all busy now doing different things, that doesn't mean he worries about his girls any less.

"I am in the period now where I think I pray more than I ever have in my life," he admits. "Because for some reason when they were under my roof, I felt like I might have had some control, you know?"

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