When country superstar Garth Brooks announced last October his plans to retire from the music biz to spend more time with his three children, media pundits were naturally skeptical. As it is, hasn't he threatened to retire countless times before?

"The term 'threatened to retire' is one that does not sit well with me," Brooks responds. "This is my first time announcing retirement. I have three girls in Oklahoma, and this is where I [plan to] stay. I am now a father."

Brooks — who is in the midst of divorcing his wife of 14 years, Sandy — explains that he's committed to making one more album for Capitol Records. But after that, he's hanging up his hat. "We'll turn the page and hopefully find what we can do and still put fathership in the front-running seat," he says.

In addition to the new record, Brooks has another pre-retirement project in the pipeline: He's producing and contributing songs to TNT's upcoming original movie, Call Me Claus, which stars Whoopi Goldberg as an unlikely St. Nick. "Every 200 years, Santa's last job is... to pick the new Santa that will take his place," the Grammy winner explains of the telepic, which will debut on the cable network in December 2001. "And it turns out to be Whoopi.

"It's going to be very classy," he continues. "And that's what we want out of a Christmas special."