Over lobster, Federline tells me his life story. He was born in Fresno in 1978. His parents divorced when he was 8 years old, and he spent some time living in Carson City, Nevada, with his mom, who was a teller at a local bank. But he moved back to Fresno at age 10 or 11 to be with his dad. "I was just getting into trouble in Nevada," he says, fiddling with a Jack and Coke. "I think maybe I had a little bit of a problem with the divorce. I guess I was rebelling against my mom, blaming her for it, and wanting to be with my father figure."
He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. "I had too much beef with people there," he says. "It's not like I was trying to be a badass or anything like that. But everybody hated me for who I was. The jocks didn't understand me. They wanted me to be like that, and I never was. I started dancing when I was 13, and the music was just -" he snaps his fingers - "there." (When he turned 18, Federline got his GED. "I actually got amazing-ass test scores on it," he says. "Not that it's the hardest thing in the world. But especially the math. I got pretty high test scores for the state of California.")
At 17, Federline moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Fresno with a girlfriend. "That's really when I went through the struggles of poverty," he says. "No power, no gas." He talks about his main source of income - what he refers to as "the bad shit" - openly, but then asks that it not be written about explicitly. "Just write criminal mischief," he says, and tells me that the money made from "the bad shit" was supplemented by delivering pizzas.
If not for Jimmy, who's also a dancer, he might never have left Fresno. But after Jimmy found work in a Christina Aguilera video, making more money in four days than Kevin made in a month, Federline packed his bags for Los Angeles. He made $1,200 a week touring as a backup dancer with Pink, plus his per diem, which he often lost betting on video games. It was one of the happiest times in his life, he says, recalling a night in Buffalo, when they toilet-papered the 98 Degrees tour bus, and a flight to Australia, when he sat up drinking Jack and Cokes for fifteen hours straight to deal with the fear of flying. At the airport, Aussie security picked him, alone, out of the crowd, "because I looked so fucked-up." Then he vomited. There were just four dancers on tour, and they were a family, he says. Pink was "one of the homeys. I always got that girl's back." Of her new song, "Stupid Girls," which lampoons celebrity starlets, he shrugs his shoulders: "Controversy sells."
About the time his then girlfriend, Shar Jackson, got pregnant with their first child, Federline booked a gig dancing in Michael Jackson's "You Rock My World" video. He leans in as he describes how one day, after rehearsal, they got a call saying Michael was on his way. "You felt him coming into the room before he even opened the door," he says. "Everybody got quiet. I remember sitting there listening to the buzzing of the lights in the studio. He sits down, crosses his legs, looks at everybody, and is like, 'I want to see it.' He can hear if you're off by your steps. He's the master of that shit." He named his and Shar's second baby Kaleb Michael Jackson Federline.
Not long after that, he was out of work for a year, and Federline stayed home with Shar to raise their baby. "It's like, you just gotta be there for each other," he says. "You gotta have the same commitment to each other. I think a lot of people's problems in Hollywood is ego." Shar was several months pregnant with their second child when Federline left her for Britney, but he defends himself insisting that the child had been planned. "I wanted to have a kid every time that I've had a child," he says. "I always wanted to be a young dad."
"No matter what anybody says about me being a father," he adds, "they have no idea how I am with my kids. That's my number one priority - my children. And it'll always be like that." He is reluctant to discuss the details of that Family Services visit. "You worry about what to do, what not to do, hoping and praying that nothing ever goes wrong. That's part of being a parent. I have faith in myself.I have faith in my wife, and in my other kids' mother, that my children are going to be okay. They're still gonna have to go through the trials in life - they have to. Otherwise, they'll grow up to be spoiled little shits. And that ain't happenin'."
The Federlines were without full-time help for a while and subsequently hired a manny, Perry Taylor, whom tabloids have rumored to be involved with Britney. Federline just wants me to know that he and the old lady are just find, though - that they're like any other first-time parents.
"I'd say she plays mama real well, dude. She's a very good mother. It's like one of those things that comes naturally." As for those photos of her driving with the baby on her lap, he'll defend her to anyone: "You don't know what it's like to be chased by a motorcade of paparazzi. What those magazines don't tell you is that the Starbucks is a minute from the house. If she feels like she gotta take the baby and put him on her lap and get out of there, so be it."