Originally published in the Dec. 6, 2010 issue of Country Weekly magazine featuring Luke and his sons on the cover.
Luke Bryan’s neighborhood seems like most others in this suburban area outside Nashville. It’s a welcoming street filled with stately, but certainly not overly luxurious, homes, well-trimmed lawns and playground furniture, indicating that young families are likely the main occupants. There are no imposing gates or guards wanting to know your business before you’re allowed entry.
Luke, wife Caroline and their two sons, Bo and Tatum, have lived in this cozy spot less than a year. “We love it,” Luke says, with his ever-present bright smile. “It fits our needs and there’s plenty of room for the boys.” On this particular day, 2-year-old Bo is sitting on the back porch, munching away on a sandwich, while baby Tatum (nicknamed “Tate”), born this past August, is in clearly audible need of a nap, evidenced by his cries. Luke and Caroline race up and down stairs like Olympic track stars as they attend to their boys. And while Luke is enjoying a rare day away from the chaotic touring life, he welcomes this hectic home scene.
“It all begins with family,” he says, grabbing a seat on the living room couch. “It’s more important than anything else in life, in my opinion.” And it’s obvious that no one has wanted a family, and especially a family of boys, more than Luke, who Caroline smilingly describes as your basic “overgrown kid.”
“Oh, I am definitely a dad who wanted boys,” Luke agrees with a nod toward his wife. “I mean, I would be very happy with girls, and I know Caroline would love to have a daughter, but I guess I’m kind of a boy’s dad. I just love the outdoors and sports and I’m already looking forward to teaching them hunting and fishing and taking them to football games. I know I’m going to have so many fun times with them.” With a laugh, he adds, “These are pretty fun times around the house right now, actually.”
Luke’s having the time of his 34-year-old life developing the classic father-son bond with Bo, whose full name is Thomas Boyer (Caroline’s maiden name) Bryan. “He is starting to become my little buddy,” Luke says with a grin. “We go riding in the truck and I have taken him fishing a couple times.” With a measure of pride, Luke points out that Bo is assuming some big brother qualities. “Every time [Tate] cries, he’ll say, ‘Baby Tate’s hungry,’ or something like that. And he kisses him on his little forehead—that’s just awesome. He’s gonna be a good big brother and take care of his little buddy.”
Luke and Caroline, who celebrate their fourth anniversary on Dec. 6, are in complete harmony when it comes to family. The only question on the table is, “How big?” And that draws a smile from both of them. “That kind of changes,” laughs Caroline, a striking blonde with down-home, girl-next-door appeal. “We always talked about wanting to have children. That was never in doubt. I come from a family of three and so does Luke, so three seems like a good number. But right now, two is good,” she adds with a sweet smile.
“Yeah, it’s funny,” Luke chimes in, “but I think we started at four. Then it went to three. Now, it may be down to two. We’ll see what the future holds. We’re very happy—we’ve got two healthy children here. And I am also gone a lot, and that all plays a part. It’s pretty daunting what Caroline has to do every day to take care of two boys.” Caroline notes, “You do spend a lot of nights alone, but it is part of Luke’s job. I’m very proud of everything he’s done.”
Luke definitely keeps a daunting tour schedule himself. In addition to his solo shows, Luke is touring with fellow Georgian Jason Aldean and traveled this past year with Rascal Flatts. The schedule reflects his smashing success over the past year, which includes his first No. 1 single, “Rain Is a Good Thing,” and the Academy of Country Music award for Top New Artist. But if there’s a downside to being in demand, it’s being gone for even longer stretches of time. That can play havoc with fatherhood.
“Well, sure, as your family grows, the responsibility grows,” Luke says matter-of-factly. “That makes you want to get out there and work a little harder and provide as much as you can.” But Luke will also allow that show business gain is a “push-and-pull-type deal.” He explains, “You want to be at home more, but you can’t because you’re getting more work. And it’s harder than ever to have to leave, for sure.”
That’s especially tough now that Bo is starting to catch on to Dad’s absences. And the little guy isn’t always happy about the fact that Luke has to occasionally leave home. “He is beginning to vocalize his feelings a little,” Luke explains. “Caroline puts him on the phone and he’ll say, ‘I miss you, Daddy,’ and that’ll get to you.” After that break-your-heart admission, Luke manages a smile. “There’s always more urgency to get back home when you hear something like that.”
As far as raising their children, Luke and Caroline have definite ideals and goals. “We are both big on manners and being polite,” Luke says. “We are ‘yes sir, yes ma’am’ kind of people. We want them to have a great Christian background where they know how to act right. As my mama used to say, ‘Act like you’ve got some sense.’ So, I know I’ll need to get on to them when I have to but also love them to death.” As a good parenting template, Luke needs only to look back at his own childhood in Leesburg, Ga.
“I had a wonderful time as a kid,” Luke remembers. “I was into all kinds of things and my parents let me dream whatever I wanted. But I was always disciplined when I acted up.” With a laugh, Luke adds, “I look at so many things as to how my parents raised me and I am starting to hear my parents in me. And I am starting to think of the little sayings that my dad used to tell me, and I know I’ll pass those down to my children.” A typical dad classic? “Do it right the first time!” Luke answers in a heartbeat. “That was one of his favorites.”
As he settles back on the couch with Caroline, Luke surveys all that surrounds him and realizes his good fortune. “This has been the best year of my life,” he says simply. “Finally, all the hard work seems to be paying off. I have two healthy kids, a beautiful wife, a nice home. That’s what really makes it worthwhile. My family and my boys mean everything to me.”
Life’s Ups and Downs
Luke is certainly on the proverbial roll, with recent hits such as “Do I,” the chart-topping “Rain Is a Good Thing” and his current single, “Someone Else Calling You Baby.” But it hasn’t all been a string of “ups.” In the past several years, Luke has dealt with two powerful blows in his life, the deaths of two siblings. His brother Chris died in a car accident in 1996, when Luke was just 19. In 2007, older sister Kelly Bryan Cheshire passed away unexpectedly, and it is still difficult for him to discuss the circumstances of her death (some reports have listed the cause as a brain tumor). But their passings have provided motivation and inspiration for Luke to carry on and leave a legacy of success in their honor.
Chris’ death occurred on the same day that Luke had planned to move to Nashville and pursue his singing career. He delayed that decision and enrolled at Georgia Southern University, eventually coming to Nashville in 2001. “That did alter the original move,” Luke confesses. “I would have come here [Nashville] when I was about 20 but that kind of changed my path a little bit. As sad as it was, maybe it was the right way for me to get to Nashville. Maybe I could not have handled it when I was younger.”
More than 10 years later, as Luke was preparing to celebrate the
No. 1 single “Good Directions,” which he co-wrote for Billy Currington, a second tragedy struck when Kelly died. “It was such an extraordinary situation,” he says, adding that it still weighs heavily on his mind. In 2008, Luke honored his brother and sister with a charity concert in his Leesburg, Ga., hometown to benefit a local YMCA. He and Caroline have also been actively involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Luke will concede that dealing with those tragic events has made him stronger and more determined. “In some ways, the success that I’ve had can help ease the pain of what has happened the past few years,” he says. “It makes you want to work harder and also appreciate the good times more. And it definitely makes me more appreciative of the family that I have. We know that we are certainly blessed.”