AJ McLean is heading into fall refreshed and recharged after prioritizing his mental health earlier this year.
“This past summer, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, for about 10 weeks. I have no shame in saying I was doing an intensive outpatient program for mental health, for depression, anxiety, trauma, all these things that I had never really taken the time to do for myself,” McLean, 45, exclusively told Us Weekly on Friday, September 15, while promoting his partnership with The Children’s Place’s holiday campaign.
Noting that his sobriety is “locked in,” the Backstreet Boys singer revealed that the program helped him dive into childhood experiences. “I was 14 when Backstreet Boys started,” McLean shared. “I never really had time to kind of acclimate or to really, really find me, find my self-esteem, find my self-worth, and know that I have value. And now, today, I can look at myself in the mirror and I can tell myself, ‘I love myself today.’ I’ve been on a major health kick, and my kids now get to see me in a different way.”
Fatherhood has become McLean’s biggest priority. “My wife’s [Rochelle McLean] always told me, even in my dark times, the one thing I’ve always been good at is being a father,” he told Us. “I never wanted to be a bad father.” (The estranged couple — who announced they were temporarily separating in March after 11 years of marriage — share daughters Elliot, 10, and Lyric, 6.)
Upon becoming a parent in 2012, AJ — who has been candid about his substance abuse struggles in the past — did not want to follow in the footsteps of his own father, who left when he was 3 years old. The pair have recently made amends, as AJ revealed via Instagram on Friday that he and his dad had dinner together for the first time in 42 years.
“It was actually a really nice time,” he told Us. “Being a father, truly — being a Backstreet Boy is great — being a father is the best job ever in the world. It’s unlike anything else. So yeah, life is pretty damn good today.”
The self-proclaimed “girl dad” recently worked alongside his daughters in The Children’s Place Holiday Boy Band Campaign, which also features ‘NSync’s Lance Bass and Joey Fatone and Boyz II Men’s Wanya Morris and their respective children.
“The four of us have known each other for a very long time, so it’s not like you’re putting four guys in a room together with their kids who have never met, who have no comradery, who have no past experience,” AJ shared. “We are family, we are brothers, and to get our families in there was just an awesome time.”
Despite filming a holiday ad while wearing matching family pajamas in the summer heat, AJ noted that all the kids “had a blast” on set. “This has been an awesome, awesome experience and we’re honored to be doing this with [the] Children’s Place,” he added.
The Children’s Place’s matching family pajamas collection is available in stores nationwide, at www.childrensplace.com and on The Children’s Place Amazon storefront.
With reporting by Christina Garibaldi