Shine Exclusive! Read a chapter from Alec Baldwin's new book about fatherhood and divorce

Even with his television, movie and Broadway success, actor Alec Baldwin's name is almost synonymous with the phrase "that awful voicemail." It was an angry message that he left for his then-11-year-old daughter, Ireland, back in 2007. He's apologized to his daughter and spoken publicly about the debacle, citing the ongoing and increasing frustration of his custody battles with ex-wife, Kim Basinger, as a reason for his outburst. And yet, more than one year later, the voicemail continues to raise questions about his parenting skills.

Will Baldwin's new book, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce, change perceptions of him?

It's easy to assume the Baldwin's book is merely a rant against Basinger, or a way to justify why he left such a horrendous voicemail for his daughter. And yes, when you read the book, you get the vibe that he's still angry. But not at his wife or daughter. He's frustrated with the entire process of divorce and family law.

This guy really, truly just wants to be a good dad to his daughter. He wants to be fully involved. He wants to savor every single moment with her. And here's what surprised me most: I understand where he's coming from.

A Promise to Ourselves walks readers through his relationship with Basinger, their very tumultuous divorce and the resulting impact on his role as a dad to Ireland. He describes in great detail the process of divorce and family law. In Chapter 15, Baldwin also offers 13 steps for any parent considering divorce. It's enough to scare the bejeezus out of you. And you're also left feeling crushed as you think of all the families you know who've gone through a divorce, especially when the parents have a fully broken relationship.

Overall, Baldwin focuses on how fathers are first to lose their parental rights in custody battles. Having witnessed someone close to me go through a similar situation (without the high-priced lawyers and tabloid news), I thought Baldwin's portrayal was accurate. He also spends a fair amount of time discussing "Parental Alienation Syndrome," a psychological term that refers to children of divorce who reject the "non-custodial" parent. The underlying question is whether the parent who has primary custody is trying to turn the child against the other parent (in direct and indirect ways).

Yes, Baldwin does address "the voicemail" in Chapter 13, aptly titled "Leave a Message After the Tone." No, he shouldn't have said what he did to her. It doesn't justify his actions. But again, once you read the book, you understand where his head was at.

It's Chapter 3, "Olives and Cheese," that really struck a chord. It was the chapter that made me see Baldwin as a dad who wants to create a normal life with his daughter. A dad who wants to stop missing his little girl grow up. One who is not giving up his parental rights just because he's not married to her mom.

Baldwin's book won't hit the shelves until next Tuesday, September 23. But you have the chance to read a chapter from it now because Baldwin and his publishers have given us an exclusive on Chapter 3, "Olives and Cheese." To purchase Alec Baldwin's A Promise to Ourselves or for more information, click here.

Excerpt from: A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce by Alec Baldwin with Mark Tabb, Chapter 3, "Olives and Cheese"

"When I first began acting in films, I traveled constantly. I had an apartment on the Westside of Manhattan, but I rarely spent much time there. I would come home from one project, dump my clothes out of my suitcase, repack, and take off again the next day. I regularly flew red-eyes, which meant I had to try to catch some sleep on my rare afternoons at home. My bedroom was at the rear of the building on West 80th Street, and behind the building was a school. I would drift off to sleep to the sound of children laughing and squealing in the schoolyard right outside my window.

That sound took me back to my own childhood. When I was growing up, my parents were one of the last generations to have a big family based on hope and faith alone. They had a lot of children and very little money. My dad taught history at a public high school for twenty-eight years and had all kinds of ancillary jobs at the school to supplement his income. He coached football and riflery along with serving as an academic advisor to student groups after school. All his jobs outside the classroom, however, didn't necessarily take him away from the family. Instead, my dad often let us tag along with him. If you asked me what I was doing, often the answer was whatever my dad was doing.

In the Summer, the local schools opened their doors for a recreation program, offering everything from softball leagues to arts and crafts workshops to film screenings. For those three weeks, he wasn't just our dad. He was everyone's dad. His forte was called the Outdoor Shower. He would pull out a fire hose on hot days and spray down the kids running around the parking lot in bathing suits and sneakers. When it was over, they served watermelon. Each year, the program ended with a variety show put on by the kids and staff and directed by my father.

On summer weekends my mom and dad would haul my entire family to Jones Beach on Long Island. We'd spend the whole day there. They would cook breakfast and lunch on the beach. We brought every piece of athletic equipment imaginable with us: baseball gloves, volleyball gear and footballs. At the end of the day we would all pile into the car and head home. On the way, we would stop at the local park with a swimming pool to take showers. I once asked my dad why we had to take showers at the park. He replied, "I can't have six kids taking showers all at the same time. It'll back up my septic system. Showers at the public park on the way home: that was my dad.

My childhood was pretty wonderful, all things considered. I always remember what my parents taught me about parenting, not by virtue of their words, but by their actions. They showed me that raising kids isn't about what you can buy or the gifts you give. Being a good parent doesn't mean dropping the child off for the finest music lessons or sending them off to the best camp for the summer. What matters most is the time you spend together. You can give your child many things, but the greatest gifts are your attention and your time.

For me, the greatest thrill of being a parent is witnessing a child developing into his or her own unique self. I used to watch my friends' children and I would try, with little success, to remember what that phase of my own life was like. You watch them wrestle with all that makes us human, badly at first, then better with each effort. You see them struggle with language and their earliest displays of emotion. Later, I would watch my own daughter's first effort to manipulate me, her first attempt at irony and telling her first joke. I saw her mother and myself in her and that delighted me. A greater joy came as she developed in ways apart from either of her parents. Slowly, and then all too quickly, children work to become the people they want to be. My daughter would try this out at the breakfast table when she announced, with all the conviction a seven year old can muster, that she was going to be a veterinarian when she grew up. Three months later, she wanted to be a dancer, then a singer, then a vet who is also a dancer.

As she grew, we began sharing moments she could not share just a couple of months before. Lying on the floor watching television, she would burst out laughing at a beat of humor more sophisticated than what the "Power Puff Girls" had offered just weeks earlier. While she was watching the show, I was watching her. I watched some of these children's movies 30 times. I knew every line and every gesture in "Snow White" or "Mary Poppins" and, eventually, so did she. Then the day arrives when your little girl suddenly cares about how she looks. In one instant, she is a tomboy, picking up salamanders in the driveway; the next she is digging through a bag for lip balm and fussing over her hair. These incredible moments all go by like a single season.

When you lose custody of your child, so much of what is magical and priceless in this experience is taken away from you. The moments still occur, but you are no longer there to share them. You find yourself constantly wondering what your child is doing now. An overwhelming pain comes from the knowledge that she is learning life through so many people's eyes, but least of all your own. You want to share your own perspective on life, to influence your child just as your parents influenced you. Above all you want to give your child the gifts of time and attention, but your opportunities become dramatically limited. Often, other men enter your child's life and fill the void created by your absence. This isn't necessarily a new man in the mother's life. Sometimes, it is the fathers of your child's friends that spend more time with your child than you do. In some high conflict divorces, you can have more conversations with your divorce lawyer, over time, than you have with your child. All the while, they experience life's moments that come only once and you are not there.

During my marriage, I tried to spend as much time with my daughter as I could. Like every working parent, my career too often got in the way. Even those who have nine to five jobs miss so much of what happens while they are at the office. When I wasn't working, I wanted to be with my family and tried to make the most of our time together. In 1998, when my daughter was only three, her mother traveled to Africa to make a film in the wake of winning an Oscar earlier that year. I rearranged my schedule and took off from work during that period to spend the entire four months overseas with Ireland. It was during this period that I truly saw that the end of my marriage was coming. As naive as I was, however, I never once sensed that my relationship with my child would be threatened. There was no feeling of urgency, like a when a house burns down and you think of what you have salvage. I never imagined where I would end up. So how might I have planned to stop it?

When my separation began, I was in the middle of directing my first film. The production took place in New York while my daughter was in Los Angeles. Between the shooting schedule and lengthy postproduction, little time was left for commuting to Los Angeles to be a dad. I flew out to LA as often as I could to grab a few moments here and there with my daughter. The situation was far from ideal but it was all I could do. As soon as the film was completed, I took another project in California so that I could be closer to her. Remarkably, I had no custody orders in that first year. I called and visited at my ex-wife's whim. I took my daughter to lunch or had meals at her home. There was obvious tension between my ex-wife and I. However, it was nothing that seemed to inhibit my visits and certainly nothing that was a precursor of what was to come.

When Christmas of 2001 came, it would be my first holiday as a single parent. My ex-wife flew with my daughter to upstate New York to drop her off at my sister's house. We stood in a hotel that first night and, as I was leaving, my daughter asked where I was going. I told her I was going to my sister's and she would spend the night at the hotel with her mom. Unless, I suggested, she wanted to come and begin her visit with us that evening. Like a shot, my daughter said she wanted to come with me. I will never forget that moment. My sister and I looked quickly and saw that my ex-wife, normally a rather nonplussed individual, looked as if she had been hit by an electric current. She quickly gathered herself and said, "Well, then, you go on and stay with them, and I will call you tomorrow. As we walked to the car, my sister commented, "I don't think she's going to bring her up here again."

After that holiday, things began to change rapidly and I faced what many non-custodial parents experience. A fence suddenly goes up around your child. The custodial parent, along with lawyers, judges and court-ordered therapists, are the gatekeepers. Decisions regarding when you can see your child and how much time you will have with them are no longer yours to make. You may request time, you may beg, but others have the now final say. The court intervenes and solicits the opinions and insights of "experts." Your former spouse and his or her lawyers begin to make their formal case in a family law courtroom. As a friend once told me, "They will paint a picture of you on your worst day and say that is who you are. They will pathologize your most casual utterances and criminalize most of your daily behavior." I was about to slam up against of the worst of it.

In high conflict divorce cases, parenting suddenly ceases to be about giving your child your time and attention. Rather, it becomes one more filing, declaration or deposition. Even in those enviable situations where divorced couples work together to effectively co-parent their children, the distance divorce creates makes being a parent more difficult. That is why so many non-custodial parents find it necessary to walk away. Walking away was never an option for me early on, however, as something happened to me around Christmas of 2001 while at my sister's house. I met my sister's friend, a man I will call Jim B. Jim was divorced and as we spoke, his words were to become like a curse put on me. Jim told me, "I did everything my ex-wife asked me to do in the early months and years. She told me to stay away and give her and my daughters their space. It was a disaster and a mistake. Don't do it, Alec. Always remember, if you don't fight for your daughter, she will never forgive you when she gets older.

Sitting in a London hotel room, six month later, my attorney informed me that my ex-wife's divorce petition had arrived at her office. She wanted to know if I wanted to see it right away. "It's pretty rough", she said. "Maybe you should read it when you finish shooting." I told her to send it over to me. A couple of days later, I sat and read the document. It was one of saddest days of my life, up until that time. Filled with more revisionistic and unkind language than I could have ever imagined, it was the first of a series of such blows I would encounter. Now the phones were all cut off and I could not call my five year-old daughter on the phone. She began to become a collection of photos on my walls. The moats were dug. It was June of 2002 and we were just getting started.

Early on, I did not have a home in Los Angeles, and would stay in hotels when I flew out. The gatekeepers declared that children need a proper home to go to for overnight visits with a parent. In their opinion hotels do not provide a suitable, child-friendly environment. Therefore, I rented a house in the area. Then my ex declared that my house was too far away from the child's primary residence. I moved closer. No matter how much I attempted to accommodate my ex, however, the court simultaneously made rulings that limited my time with my child based upon my ex-wife's characterizations of me as a father. The net result of my ex-wife's declaration was like being thrown into a deep pit. Sadly for the alienated parent, the judges and attorneys involved know that many men are going to attempt to claw your way out of that pit, no matter what the cost is physically or emotionally. Your relationship with your child is literally at stake. The only question is whether you run out of money or will before you make it.

During the long and tortured process during which some judge is deciding if you truly are the unfit parent that your ex is contending, precious time is rushing by. For over a year, I had to content myself with six hours on Saturday afternoons in a park or toy store with my little girl, or a ninety-minute dinner in the middle of the week. My first overnight visit with her did not come until that Christmas of 2001, a full year after my separation date. Even then, I was ordered to bring my ex-wife's nanny with me.

After my daughter started first grade, I volunteered to come in once or twice a week to read to the children at her school. Schools ordinarily welcome parental involvement, even from non-custodial parents. Children, however, are not always as eager to have their parents hanging around the school. Therefore, I asked my daughter on more than one occasion if it were all right with her that I continue volunteering. I told her I did not want to embarrass her or make her feel uncomfortable. At the time I was one of very few fathers who volunteered for this program. But my daughter would always cut me short and tell me that she wanted me there. She would also ask me to stay and eat lunch with her.

The challenge non-custodial parents face is to try to create normalcy when nothing is normal. Parenting is something that happens in the regular flow of life, but when you lose custody of your child, you are cut off from that flow. You are viewed as actually interrupting that flow, in so far as that is now established by the custodial parent and the court. Your new house that you bring your child to is unfamiliar. Everything the two of you do is tightly scheduled. You begin to look at clocks and calendars with a slight desperation. You find yourself fighting the sensation that you are somehow competing with the other parent for your child's affection. Some parents overcompensate by indulging their child's every whim. Others find themselves so exhausted from the combined strain of legal wrangling and career that they have little left to offer their child when they do have time together. More than anything, you long to establish a place where you both can truly feel at home, even if only for a weekend.

Eventually I was able to establish a more regular visitation schedule with my daughter that included overnight visits. I rented a house where, in spite of the spasms of disruptive litigation, she would spend every other weekend with me. Although I only lived in the house when I was in Los Angeles for that visitation, I tried to fill it with the things I knew she liked. Just as I did when I was married, I would light a fire and put on one of her favorite movies. One cloudy afternoon she had settled down on the couch and I asked her if she wanted a snack. Looking up at me, sleepily, she asked me if I had any olives and cheese. I had seen this coming, so you can bet that my pantry was filled with jars of olives and I had a block of cheese in the refrigerator the size of the Manhattan phone directory. "Yes," I told her, "would you like some?" She smiled up at me and said, "Yes, please. As I walked out of the room I glanced back at my daughter lying there, content. I was overwhelmed and began to sob, hiding from her in the kitchen. "What are you doing?" she demanded. "Come watch the movie with me." I told her I was cleaning the kitchen and would be right there.

I could not help but wonder about how many moments like this I had missed. All I wanted to do was make my daughter happy and, for now, she was. I pulled myself together and walked back into the room to ask her if she needed anything else. All she wanted was for me to sit down and join her. I realized that this is all I wanted, too. I was suddenly overcome with the thought that no one could come through the door and take this from me. In this moment, I realized that this rented house held nothing familiar for either of us except one another. It was not her house and it was not mine either, but that did not matter now. My daughter and I, on that afternoon, had made a home."