Tom Arnold is fresh back from filming in Rome, Italy, and while a spring break in Europe’s most beautiful capital may sound idyllic to most people, he couldn’t be happier to be home.
The reason? Two reasons, actually: Jax, 7, and Quinn, 5.
“I just got back and so my kids are with me for 16 days in a row and that’s wonderful,” he tells OK!. “Last night we watched Nine Months, the movie I did with Hugh Grant many moons ago — and to see my 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter enjoy this movie about having children 26 years after I made it, is so special.
“I was thinking how much fun we had making that movie, and then I thought — no, this is the fun, this is the home run. Sitting here all these years later as a father, with my kids, and they’re enjoying it, they’re proud of me… that’s the home run.”
Jax and Quinn are the product of Arnold’s fourth marriage, to Ashley Groussman. The couple wed in Maui in 2009, but split after a decade together, and last year their divorce was finalized.
He and his ex-wife have been involved in an increasingly bitter war of words and accusations since then, with Groussman even filing restraining orders against Arnold — all of which were subsequently thrown out by the judge. The couple currently split their time with the children 50/50, and he insists that despite the current rancor with Groussman, every moment he has with their children makes him grateful to have met her in the first place.
“You know people say, I wanna have kids, I know I certainly did, and they may not always mean it, but thank god I did. That’s what I wanted to do in life, was be a father. I came to it late in life, and I’ve done a lot of other fun things and had some great times… but this is easily the greatest.
“It can be a lot of work but it’s so worth it.”
As OK!’s exclusive peek inside Arnold’s family photo album shows, the True Lies actor, 62, shares a special connection with both children — something he says was important to him from the moment they were born.
“I changed every diaper,” he says. “Believe it or not, that’s something I learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger. On his first child people would say, ‘Oh let me do that, I know how to do that,’ and he said that’s a mistake, you’ve got to get in there and change every diaper and have that bond and don’t let anyone tell you you’re not doing it right. So from day one with my son and my daughter I did just that.
“My ex-wife had a different way — she was raised with a nanny, and it’s not like we didn’t have help when the kids were little, but I could see that we were a little bit different in our styles. I certainly didn’t expect her to be like me, I’ll tell you that!”
Schwarzenegger, with whom Arnold starred in True Lies, remains a close friend to this day, and one of the family’s favorite treats is to visit the Schwarzenegger household to play with Arnie’s pet donkey Lulu and miniature horse Whiskey. The former governor of California confirms that Tom remains a very involved dad.
“Tom is a fantastic father and I love seeing this side of him with Jax and Quinn, because he’s so sweet and hands on,” he says. “Every time he comes over to my house to bring them to hang out with Whiskey and Lulu, he shows up without a nanny and does everything to make sure the kids have the best time.”
Another close family friend is fellow A-lister Sharon Stone, who says: “Tom is an adorable father, it’s the key to his life and happiness. He was my Dad’s best friend — that’s why I know he puts those kids in front of everything else always.”
Arnold’s custody struggles with his ex-wife were further complicated last year by a period spent in hospital after severe organ failure — and of course the pandemic. But he says that, perhaps typically for a man who began his career as a comedian, he’s been able to turn both adversities into triumphs.
“I don’t have a full-time nanny or anything like that,” he says, “and particularly this last year because of COVID they’ve been home schooled, or Zoom schooled, and I’ve taken this opportunity to make the most of it. We learn together, it’s kind of fun being back in first grade again.
“I wake up, the kids are there, they’re wonderful and interesting. I get to do home schooling with them, I enjoy it, I enjoy the minutiae of being a parent. I’m blessed to be a parent.
“It’s just a joy being with them. I enjoy playing with them, we have millions of different types of games we play.”
As for his health scare, he has seen it as a wake-up call — to treasure every moment he gets with Jax and Quinn.
“I’m so grateful for every day of life I’ve had since the February last year,” he says. “My whole thing now is to spend time with my kids, that’s what I want to do, to be the best parent I can be. I was on life support for 11 days, so I’m gonna spend every moment I can with them so we can make memories. Life can be over in a second, so I’m like: today we’re going to make the most of today. That’s got to be the most important thing now.”
And as his custody battle with ex-wife Groussman continues to generate negative headlines, he also believes it’s important that their children know that they are loved by both parents.
“No matter what happens, I want my kids to know how much I love them,” he says. “I think that’s very important. Kids can’t get enough love. You can’t say, they get that from their mom, they don’t need that from their dad — they absolutely do.”