Finding out his debut children's book, Just Because, hit No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list was cool for Matthew McConaughey, but celebrating with his kids over cheeseburgers was pretty priceless.
And not least because every precious moment spent with sons Levi, 15, and Livingston 10, and daughter Vida, 13, is another chance to soak up the wisdom of the ages. Still young ages, yes, but the three kids he shares with wife Camila Alves McConaughey are already proving that your role models don't have to be older than you are.
"Levi continues to teach me consideration," McConaughey told E! News' Francesca Amiker in an exclusive interview. "He's an extremely considerate young man and I appreciate that about him."
Vida teaches him "forgiveness," the Oscar winner shared. "She's a real peacemaker."
And Livingston, he said, "reminds me of the power of absolute singular focus. When he's got a project, whether it's a sport or homework or drawing, he zeroes in and the rest of the world is gone."
Hmm, which maybe sounds familiar...
During the stay-at-home days of COVID, hunkered down with his family (including now-91-year-old mom Kay) in Texas, "I was forced to get more introspective," McConaughey recalled. "And I definitely got more monastic, which I actually enjoy. I have to watch I don't enjoy it too much. I start writing and enjoying my own company, I almost become clumsy, socially."
Occasional periods of solitude have proved key to his creative process, including when he packed up his journals and headed to a land that WiFi forgot to write his 2020 memoir Greenlights. (And he fully credits Camila for being so in tune with him that she knows even before he does that it's time for him to separate from the pack for a bit.)
But being present for more adventures with his kids in recent years gave McConaughey a lot of food for thought.
"You start to see and make sense of the world through the lens of having children," McConaughey said. "And evidently I have some dreams through that lens as well."
It was a dream, in fact, that helped usher him back to writing. "I don't know what I was listening to before I went to bed," he recalled, "but it was sort of this Bob Dylan ditty in my head. [Imitating a Dylan-esque melody] 'Just because you threw the dart doesn't mean that it's stuck, just because you've got skills don't mean there is no luck...'"
Not wanting to break that rhythm when he woke up, he said, "I just kind of quietly walked over and started writing. And I just kept the rhythm and all of a sudden, four hours later, I had written basically what's [in] the book."
He looked it over, he continued, and thought, "Oh, I think that could be useful. That's stuff I'm talking to my kids about, I hear my kids talking to their friends about that. I hear other parents talk about this stuff. So, I put it down. And there it is."
Full of useful isms such as "Just because you follow doesn't mean you're not a leader" (as in, it can be more important to pick the right person to learn from than to go first and not know what you're doing) to "Just because I'm finished doesn't mean I'm done," Just Because is a natural extension of McConaughy's "just keep livin'" philosophy.
An important tenet of which is never stop learnin'.
"Kids are being told by the world that they need to be absolute about something," the 53-year-old said, explaining to E! what he hopes children and parents get out of the book. "You know, 'What are you gonna do? What are you gonna be like?' 'Whoa, I'm a kid. Let me try some things out.' Or, you know, 'I'm excited about this, but I'm nervous and I'm confused, I feel both these things.'"
And, he continued, "That's cool. You can have dueling feelings. You can feel one way today about something and tomorrow feel a different way about the same situation. This starts to confuse us and confuse young people. It's saying 'Hey, that's okay. That's part of the poetry of living.' So there's a proper leniency in here I think will allow access for parents to talk to their kids and for kids to talk to their parents and say, 'Well, tell me about a situation you're in like that in your life, Mom, Dad'—and it opens the conversation to say, 'Hey, life's a lyric, it's poetry to live it.'"
Which, by all accounts, is how McConaughey and his wife jam with their little band at home.
The Interstellar star predicts that all three of his kids, whether or not any of them follow him into acting, will all turn out to be "somewhat good storytellers," as stating one's case is "part of our lingo in the house."
"You know, if you have something to say," he explained, describing how he tells the kids to spill it, "'Make a presentation, come on, stand up on the chair. Let's hear it, speak up! What's your sell?'"
So they've all got a little flair for performing in their blood, but at this point, McConaughey said, "Let 'em play with all the furniture in the house right now."
But while Levi, Vida and Livingston have plenty of time to figure out their true passions in life, they are growing up, just a bit, with all the "awesome, intimidating and cool" conversations that entails for Mom and Dad.
However, it's not particularly surprising to hear that McConaughey isn't much fazed by the idea of the birds-and-the-bees talk ("We're starting those discussions, he said, "and I think they come with the teen years") and perhaps he's even got another book in him on the subject.
"I'm heady on that one," he said. "I've got that, because I've talked to a lot of my other friends, mothers and fathers that are at that same time with their children. They're like, 'What do you say? What do you? Where do you go?' And there's not, that I know of, many safe, cool places to go to have those essential talks about one's body, about one's attraction to another, about what a first kiss is like."
FYI, at 14 years old McConaughey naturally wanted his first kiss to be perfect but it didn't turn out quite right. "I got the old lip-hung-up-on-her-braces deal," he recalled. "And yes, we bumped noses going in. It was clumsy." (At least he got the setting right: Nature trail.)
And while he's the resident raconteur, Camila "teaches me stuff all the time," he said of his bride of 11 years. "She's so wonderful at promoting what she knows is essential about me and why she loves me. And what is the most me, she puts gas on that fire in a way that is so generous and consistent."
She makes "incredible" sacrifices for their family, he said, many of which he's benefited from (see: going to the middle of nowhere to write his memoir with her blessing), so he tries to show his appreciation whenever possible.
Which, incidentally, he considers another very important behavior to exhibit around their children.
"One of the best lessons we can give our kids, as a father, is show them how I love their mother," and vice versa for Camila, he said. "And a lot of times that does mean, 'No, the door's shut and you're not welcome in.' A lot of times it does mean that Mom and Dad need their time."
How he and Camila interact in front of the kids is essential, McConaughey continued. "When you're cooking in the kitchen, how you treat each other, how you disagree, how you show affection—applause, 'giddy-ups,' 'attaboys,' 'love ya, babes.' Those are really great lessons that our kiddos, whether they let you know they see them there or not—you didn't give them advice, but they saw it and they will clock it."
And even more importantly, when they're not exactly in a "love ya, babe" mood they make sure to let the kids know that everything's gonna be alright.
"We disagree and you call it a fight or whatever you want to call it," McConaughey said. "But look at us the next morning. We didn't go to bed holding a grudge, or we will carry on with our responsibilities to each other, even though it's the ol' 'I love you but I don't like you right now.' My mom used to say that, it's a good one."
He added, "There are times where that can be true, but the love's still there."
McConaughey was quick to assure that he and Camila aren't "batting 1,000" when it comes to parenting, but one of their main goals is to give Levi, Vida and Livingston the sort of space that encourages closeness in the long run.
"We're trying to maintain access to them and their life," McConaughey explained, noting that his first "secret place" to cultivate a life apart from his parents back in the day was a treehouse.
"Every child needs that," he said. "Every child needs a journal or a diary that they can trust. 'Mom and Dad aren't going through that, that's mine, and [they're] not sharing everything with us.'"
And telling their kids it's perfectly okay to have their secrets "allows them to go, 'Well, cool, I've got my own private stuff, so that allows me to share more with you when I want to,'" McConaughey added. "Hopefully."
Just Because is available wherever you buy books. And scroll on to see some top-notch McConaughey family photos: