What's it like to be a first-time dad at 41? Wilmer Valderrama compares it to being Keanu Reeves's character Neo in The Matrix.
"All the way up to having a kid, you think that you've learned most of what you need in life skills ... But as soon as the baby is born, all of a sudden you're like, 'I know kung fu,'" he tells Yahoo Life's So Mini Ways. "Like, all of a sudden, something else wakes up — something uploads into your brain and you are a father now.
"You are the same guy with a new set of skills that you did not know were in there," he adds.
Valderrama says he "always wanted a family," but it wasn't until February 2021 that he and fiancé Amanda Pacheco welcomed their daughter, Nakano, who is now 19 months old.
Nakano's first language is Spanish, says the Miami-born actor, who credits his Colombian mother with helping to keep those cultural ties strong. After playing and having breakfast with her parents, Nakano heads to her grandmother's house — Valderrama bought her the property next door to his — for a few hours.
"It is only Spanish, only salsa music, only Spanish television," he says, adding with a laugh, "I think she's starting to watch telenovelas, to be honest."
Valderrama, who also has Venezuelan heritage, says that his daughter is exposed to "very, very, very Latino influences daily." That includes her food.
"When she goes to my mom's house, it's all, like, South American soups, arepas in the morning with eggs — she's eating better than me, I'll tell you," he quips.
To hear the NCIS star tell it, Nakano — who is also picking up a bit of sign language — has it pretty good. Valderrama admits that his little girl has him wrapped around her finger.
"The word that comes out of my mouth daily when it comes to my daughter is 'yes,'" he says. "Or like, 'absolutely — we need it' or like, 'absolutely — buy it.' Or 'yes, she needs that dress.' Everything is yes when it comes to my daughter."
And it's not just Nakano who gets special treatment. The former That ’70s Show star says that his dog, Marrok — who has his own Instagram account, by the way — is "incredibly spoiled." Though he says the connection between him and his daughter is "on a different planet," Valderrama notes that being a dog owner helped prepare him for the gentler communication techniques he tries to use as a parent.
"I don't yell," he explains. "I don't like barking orders; I don't like doing that. When I train my dog, I train him by talking to him. If he was barking and crying, then he didn't get what he wanted to do. But if he asked nicely and level and took a deep breath, then he gets everything he wants, you know?"
He laughs. "I don't know if that's gonna translate over time [with Nakano], because I feel like whatever she wants she's gonna get from me."
The Encanto star recently joined forces with Purina Dog Chow in support of its first Visible Impact Award, which recognizes the PTSD service dogs who are working in aid of military veterans; voting runs through Oct. 17. The campaign, which is part of the brand's annual Service Dog Salute program, struck a chord with Valderrama, who has spent the better part of two decades visiting troops and military families around the world.
"If I never got to wear the uniform and serve my country, I felt that this may be another calling of service," he says of championing military-related projects that are "actually leading with solutions and not a Band-Aid mentality."
Supporting service dogs in particular also appealed to the lifelong animal lover.
"I've grown up with dogs my whole life, and dogs have been a big part of my upbringing and a big part of the companionship in my life," Valderrama says. "There were times in my career where I felt somewhat lonely. I give myself completely to my art, to my entrepreneurship and all of that, so when you come home, you're kind of drained; your tank is empty. And the only thing that kind of sometimes fulfills you is that innocent, unconditional love that you get from a canine. I learned to need it; I needed my dog. At the end of the day, I was looking forward to watching a movie with him, because there was something peaceful about that."
Fatherhood has been a "whole different adventure," Valderrama says, but one in which his relationship with Marrok remains a "beautiful complement."
"[Having a child] became an extension of what we were already doing, and it evolved into a family," he says.
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.