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From early on, Thomas Rhett knew he could, as he famously sang in his multiplatinum hit, die a happy man.
But he needed to tell the whole world. He was three years into his marriage to Lauren Akins—and some two decades into a love story that started when they met in the first grade—when he had the realization while working on his second studio album, Tangled Up.
“I remember going out and my wife just really encouraging me to write. She’s always wanted me to write like a ‘Just to See You Smile’ by Tim McGraw,” he shared with The Boot in 2016. “I looked back and was like, ‘I’ve never just written a song about my wife or for my wife.'”
So he sat down with two cowriters and scribbled out the lyrics:
If I never get to see the Northern lights
Or if I never get to see the Eiffel Tower at night
Oh if all I got is your hand in my hand
Baby I could die a happy man
The most-played country tune for six straight weeks, the 2015 track went platinum many times over, earning him his two Academy of Country Music Awards, a CMA and a Grammy nod. And his personal life is doing even better.
“It’s tough to put into words how crazy the ride has been,” the two-time Grammy nominee (born Thomas Rhett Akins) wrote in a seventh anniversary tribute last October. “We have changed and grown In so many ways and I literally find new ways to love you every single day. There is no one in the world like you babe. You are the most amazing mother to our kids and you treat me way too good. I hope this picture is a glimpse into us getting old together.”
Suffice to say the 30-year-old doesn’t even need a birthday wish today. He and the philanthropist, on the board of children’s charity Love One International, have faced fertility struggles, a grueling adoption and the type of long separations that come with being an international country star and have come out all the more bonded on the other side.
Now parents to Willa Gray, 4, Ada James, 2, and tiny Lennon Love, who just arrived last month, they’re well aware that they’re incredibly blessed. “It was such a joy to watch this little angel be brought into the world. My wife is just incredible,” Rhett wrote on Instagram, honoring his newest arrival. “Watching our kids meet Lennon for the first time was probably the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life! Ada James and Willa Gray are going to be the best big sisters on the planet. The Lord is so good and I’m so grateful for my beautiful growing family!!”
Because, actually, the couple did rely on a bit of divine intervention to reach their happily ever after status. Or at least a push from dear old dad.
You see, the Georgia natives first met as first graders, became close during their years at church camp and even took a stab at romance in high school. “We dated once when we were 15, and it didn’t work out,” he told Taste of Country just ahead of their 2012 vows. “We dated for like six months. We remained best friends even after we broke up. We both dated other people for like five years.”
In fact, they came thisclose to marrying other people in their early twenties until her father intervened. “The night of her sister’s graduation party, we were buddies and I was there. I’d loved that girl since high school, and I told her father how I felt,” he recalled in an interview with HITS Daily Double last year. “He said, ‘If you don’t tell her, I’m going to.'”
His next move was “a total Ryan Gosling moment,” he told the outlet. “I said to her, ‘I just want to kiss you one time. If you don’t feel anything, we can go back to being friends.'”
Of course they didn’t, and some six months later, he made another big move. “Me and Lauren are big on drinking wine and signing the bottles with a silver sharpie,” he explained to Taste of Country. So one night, just ahead of Christmas, he gathered both of their families in a private room at her favorite Nashville spot, Giovanni’s. “There was a bottle of wine sitting there. I pulled out a sharpie and put ‘Marry me’ on the bottle.”
Her response: “Well, duh, yes,” written in the same silver marker.
Married 10 months later at the tender age of 22, they received some push-back. “Everybody was telling us not to,” he recalled to People, “but we just fell in love at a young age.” And that much was evident at their vows just outside Nashville.
“When I saw them stare at each other the entire 20 minutes they were saying their vows, it’s like these two people are meant to be together,” his father, fellow country singer Rhett Akins, told Country Weekly. “They are beyond in love. Everybody there that had doubted or wondered if they were too young, all the doubts are gone now.”
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They vowed to maintain strong communication (speaking at least three times a day when he’s on the road) and unquestionable respect, Rhett making it a point not to drape himself all over female video costars because “it’s just not really what I do.” And then they jetted off to Oahu for a honeymoon.
Three years later, they were back to shoot the video for “Die a Happy Man”, letting the world in on just how delighted they were. “I really did just wake up one day and was like, ‘I have yet to write a song about her,'” he told People. “That’s just one of those cheesy things you do for your girlfriend when you’re 16, but I decided to do it when I was 25.”
Really, there was just one piece missing.
Struggling to conceive, they were inspired to dive into the adoption process after Akins fell hard for then-18-month-old Willa during a 2016 trip to Uganda with charity 147 Million Orphans. Looking at a photo of Akins cuddling the toddler, “Lauren had this amazing glow about her and it just felt like she was already our daughter in a weird way,” he told People. “I just blurted out, ‘We should bring her home.'”
They did the following May in a moment they likened to “Christmas Day,” following months of red tape, visits that saw them leave empty handed and one surprise pregnancy. By August they were welcoming Baby Akins No. 2 and navigating their suddenly busy household.
“She was jealous at first I think,” Rhett noted to E! News at the 2018 Grammys of his eldest. “But it’s so fun to watch her, she loves our little Ada so much and it’s been amazing watching her be a great big sister to her.”
With two toddlers in their Nashville home “tired but we’re happy,” as she put it to People, has became the new normal. The latter, of course, the predominant feeling with Akins as her husband told E! News, wanting “a million kids.”
For now, they’re happy with their handful. “We decided we didn’t have enough princess dresses around the house,” Akins shared in an Instagram post announcing baby no. 3, “so we’re adding another Akins baby girl to the family early next year despite Thomas Rhett’s initial shock.”
These days, any travel involves carting a solid supply of tutus and toys, the girls often tagging along on tour stops. “But as much as they come on the road, man, it really does make being on the road feel a lot more like home,” he told E! News at the 2019 ACM Awards.
And he’s still singing about his bride, 30, he’s just adding his other favorite ladies into the mix with his kids making cameos in 2017’s “Life Changes” and “Look What God Gave Her”. Consider it making up for lost time, all those wistful tunes he never penned as a teen.
“I think she knows that it’s just kind of a given that one out of every three songs I write are going to be about her,” he explained to E! News last year of Akins accepting her role as his muse. “You know, a bit of good advice I got a long time ago was write about you know. And I feel like I know her and my kids really, really well. So it just kinda falls out of me.”