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Q. You're an actor, musician, author, and businessman—are your kids following in your footsteps?
A. We'll see. Italia, who is studying business in college, has a paid internship, but she also works for my music website Boomdizzle. Even with two paychecks, she knows the important thing is the education she's getting—not the cash. My son, Najee, is studying photography and art. Samaria is modeling and designing her own clothes. And Nina loves to play the piano and write songs.
Q. Kids grow up faster in Hollywood. Has that made you and Simone more protective?
A. I was raised in the music industry, so I already know the game. I'm not Mr. Innocent. But Simone and I don't want to be too strict and create a slingshot effect with our daughters where we're always trying to pull them back. Because as soon as we let go of the slingshot, they'll be sneaking out the window at 1 a.m.!
Q. I hear Nina plays basketball against Lily, daughter of your NCIS costar Chris O'Donnell. Is there a rivalry between your families?
A. Let's just say Chris witnessed Nina's fury on the court as she scored a barrage of points in her very first game. But I didn't gloat—okay, maybe a little.
Q. All kidding aside, you both have big families (you have four kids and he has five). Do you get a kick out of comparing dad stories on set?
A. I do. He'll tell me about taking one of his sons to a sports game, and I'll tell him how proud I was to see Samaria modeling in Teen Vogue or how Nina's pet lizard, Miles, became mine because I'm the one brave enough to feed him worms.
Q. What's the hardest part about being a dad?
A. Remaining open-minded. I try to stay confident in the values I've instilled in my kids so I can give them space.
Q. Tell us the most important thing you and Simone have learned from your kids.
A. Even when they don't seem like they're listening, they're watching—and it's surprising how much influence we have on them.
Success Story: In addition to his gig on NCIS: Los Angeles, LL, whose real name is James Todd Smith, has won two Grammy awards and published five books.
Let Kids Be Kids: "I don't think a 15-year-old should be concerned with looking sexy. It's not appropriate. Allowing my teenager to dress that way is like giving a 10-year-old a car. There's nothing wrong with the car, but a kid is not mature enough to handle it."
I Can't Live Without: "Sweets—everything from marshmallow-iced devil's food cake to Neapolitan ice cream. I know how to throw it down!"
Quiet Time: "I sneak into the den with a good book. I loved Ron Chernow's Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. It was 800 pages of pure adventure. I felt like I had on a top hat and tails when I was done."
Family Fun: "My daughters enjoy boxing matches as much as Najee does. We all scream at the television together."
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.