Matthew McConaughey has the world by the tail – an Oscar for last year's Dallas Buyers Club, a new sci-fi blockbuster, Interstellar, and a beautiful family he adores.
In this week's cover story, the actor, who turned 45 on Tuesday, assumes the role of PEOPLE writer and shares his surprising road to superstardom and fatherhood, a journey marked by profound life experiences, lucky breaks and his share of mistakes.
Writing about one of 10 moments that helped shape the man he is today, McConaughey reveals the effect the death of his beloved father, Jim, had on him in 1992.
"A boy loses his father, he quickly becomes a man," he writes. "I was 22. I remember clearly the sobriety I felt in the pain of my father passing. The sorrow refined me, and I never looked at the world the same again."
In another life-changing moment, which he titled "The Curse of the Red Sports Car," the star recalls his misguided decision to trade in his four-cylinder truck for a fancy cherry-red sports car in high school.
"My truck was informal, rugged, social, like me," he says. "But this 300ZX [sports car] was my dream car, or so I thought. And as soon as I got it, something changed. I started acting like my car. I became really concerned with my appearance, meticulous, self-conscious."
Needless to say, the star sold the car two months later and got his truck – not to mention his down-to-earth swagger – back.
McConaughey writes about an array of other personal moments, from his Texas youth and "being in the right bar at the right time" to land his breakout role in Dazed and Confused to his marriage with wife Camila, 31, a lifestyle expert and designer, and the birth of their first son, Levi, now 6.
"Since I was 8 years old, the one thing I've always known was I wanted to be a father," he writes.
For much more from Matthew McConaughey, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday