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It’s 1:40 p.m. on a Wednesday in Las Vegas. The May weather is mild and I’m standing outside the home ofJersey Shorestar Ronnie Magro.
I’m 20 minutes early, so I text his publicist. “All good, go knock,” she instructs me. “He’s just waiting.”
As I knock softly on the door, my eyes cast downward. An Easter-themed doormat lingers with the phrase, “Every Bunny Welcome Here.”
I don’t know exactly what I expected, but this isn’t it. Suffice it to say, it’s a far cry from what one might see at the storied “Shore House,” where GTL and Spiraling were on the daily itinerary.
Moments later, I’m greeted by Ronnie and his 14-month-old daughter, Ariana. He welcomes me in, and I’m surprised to find no publicist, no nanny, no assistant in sight. Just a dad and his baby.
The house that they share is clean, modern and simple, littered only with colorful Fisher-Price toys and plastic baby gates blocking the stairs. In the hallway, a kid-sized Mercedes-Benz is charging. It’s a white convertible, matching Dad’s adult-sized version in the garage. Outside on the patio, I notice another kiddie car: a bright pink SUV.
In the living room, a giant stuffed bunny sits perched on an L-shaped couch. Block letters spell “DAD” on the fireplace mantle. Just above, The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” plays on a flat screen TV, but Ariana is much more interested in her new visitor.
Ariana, looking every bit her father’s daughter, is friendly and shows no sign of shyness. She happily grabs my legs, babbles, and shows me her toys. She obliges with eager claps as I sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” a current hit with my own daughter. Ronnie laughs. As he hands her a snack of Gerber puffs and teething cookies, Ariana promptly puts each piece of food directly in my mouth, refusing to take no for an answer.
I later learn that he’s hand-selected Ariana’s outfit, a striped tank top, pink shorts and pink sneakers. In fact, he loves to dress her in pink -- and she has the closet to prove it. Her mother, Jenn Harley, with whom Ronnie has had a highly volatile, publicly and legally documented relationship, isn’t a fan of the color. On this day, Ronnie has also paired his own white T-shirt with pink linen shorts.
"I actually enjoy buying clothes for her," he later says, holding Ariana in front of her closet. "Her mom always hated pink: 'I don’t want her to be a pink baby!' I'm like, 'She’s a girl. What are you gonna do, baby blue?'"
Amid a toxic relationship with Jenn, Ronnie says that fatherhood came relatively easily to him. He grew up helping his own mother care for his younger siblings and received sound advice from Shore co-star Paul “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio, which amounted to holding himself accountable for his own on-screen behavior. Pauly D welcomed a daughter in 2013.
“Every decision that I make, I have to realize that I have a daughter now,” Ronnie says, invoking the popularity of the show. “Eventually, she’s going to see it. You have to be really careful with the way you act and the way you do things, because she’s gonna grow up with that. At the end of the day, she’s the one that’s walking around, like, ‘That’s my dad. That’s my mom.’ So, it’s a lot of pressure.”
And it’s that pressure that has Ronnie joking about canceling his cable service until Ariana’s 16th birthday.
After years of collective debauchery on Jersey Shore, the series’ Family Vacation-dubbed reboot saw him acting unfaithfully to his then-pregnant girlfriend. Fans then watched slack-jawed as the couple’s relationship devolved into an explosive spectacle across both the show and the tabloids.
In one episode, cameras followed Ronnie as he enlisted the help of a lawyer in arranging a custody agreement. In another, Ronnie's Jersey Shore co-stars grappled with the news that their friend had suffered serious injuries after Jenn allegedly dragged him behind a car. (She was arrested after the incident, but the charges were ultimately dropped.)
Ronnie describes the last year, including filming Jersey Shore, as "a whirlwind of s**t," and says that he and Jenn have committed to moving forward as civil co-parents for their daughter, who is becoming increasingly aware of their interactions.
"I think we just got to a point where we realized that it’s not just about us anymore, you know, it's about her," he says of the child they share. "She's getting to that age where she can feel if we’re in a bad mood. She knows if we're arguing or not, if we're not talking. Like, you give off that energy and I don’t really want to give off that energy to her. She's getting to that age where she’s such a happy baby and I don’t want to take that from her."
The pair is committed to a flexible 50/50 custody arrangement, allowing freedom for Ronnie to have extra time with Ariana when he’s not working.
Currently, he’s in the midst of filming the third season of Jersey Shore: Family Vacation, which returns July 11th and is expected to focus on Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino’s marriage and incarceration, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and Deena Cortese each welcoming new babies, and Jenni "JWoww" Farley’s split from husband Roger Mathews. For his storyline, Ronnie won’t be popping bottles so much as warming them.
"Last season I was just going through a lot of stuff. I had a lot of anger and I was going through a serious case of depression that I didn’t even know I was going through until I addressed it and was like, 'Wow, you know, I’m depressed.' I’ve never felt that before," he says, opening up about his decision to seek professional help after wrapping the second season of Family Vacation.
"That was the best thing for me to get myself out of the toxic situation I was in here, whether it was the things I was doing or the things Ariana's mom was doing," he says. "I just had to kind of pull myself out and reset, and do as much work as I can on myself. You know, life isn’t that bad. I’m not a victim to life. I have blessings, I have a beautiful daughter, I have a great job, great support system. So, instead of focusing on the one negative thing, I’d just focus on the 30 positive things."
Comparing his journey to his now-sober co-star, The Situation, Ronnie says he’s "blessed" to have found help "before I got to a really, really dark place."
"We see what’s happened with Mike and sometimes you get to a point where you don’t have a choice but to turn your life around," he adds, referencing The Situation's battle with overcoming drug and alcohol abuse.
While Ronnie openly addresses the toxicity of his own relationship with Jenn, he’s also kind-hearted and treads lightly when speaking about her as a mother.
"She's always going to be the mother of my child," he says. "I feel like me and her are always going to have love for each other, but I think we're just at a point where we're trying to figure ourselves out and right now were both happier in the situation that we're in."
He doesn’t elaborate much on what that "situation" entails, but he does say that Jenn lives separately in another nearby home. The co-parents will be facing another challenge ahead, as Ronnie sets his sights on moving back to Los Angeles in the near future. For Father's Day, the family celebrated together at Disneyland.
"I have a lot of time to focus on myself, focus on my daughter, and focus on work," he continues. "Right now, I think that's the best place and the right state of mind to be in, to be honest with you."
Ronnie says that he and Jenn hope to shield Ariana from learning about their bad romance until she’s at least a teenager, but recognize that it’s easier said than done. Remaining optimistic, Ronnie hopes that their mistakes can at least serve as a life lesson for her.
"It's a great example to do the opposite of what we did," he muses. "Just grow up and know that people make mistakes, but that does not define who they are. I want Ariana to understand that, because she's going to make mistakes in her life and I don't want her to think when she makes a mistake that it's the end of the world. She's gonna get through it, she's gonna push through it and things are always gonna be OK."
Already, Ariana's growing personality is infectious with an easy smile and playful laugh. She's a natural in front of the camera, upbeat and brave, toddling boldly wherever she pleases.
Our interview starts and stops in fits. Ariana is unfazed by the television crew in her home and happily plays with a field producer off-camera. Her nap time comes and goes, and she’s tired, but she’s not pleased when Ronnie brings her upstairs to her crib.
Eventually, she concedes to relax in her swing while watching Elmo on the TV in the master bedroom. But only until we are ready to play again.
Upstairs, we tour Ariana's nursery and her playroom, which is adorned with a large pop art photo of the Shore cast. It was a gift, Ronnie says, from MTV. He hopes that his child will grow close with his Jersey Shore compatriots, and even jokes about setting up matchmaking services between her and one of Nicole's sons.
"What if MTV comes to you and says they want to do a Jersey Shore spinoff with your kids?" I ask. Currently, there are eight children between the current cast members.
Ron snaps back with a big laugh: "Not with my daughter!"