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Pat Neely Was “Devastated” By Divorce From Gina, But Is Thankful For New Wife: “It Was Love At First Sight”

Pat Neely

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 16: Celebrity chef Pat Neely attends the ‘2016 Circle of Sisters’ at Jacob Javits Center on October 16, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by CJ Rivera/Getty Images)

Pat Neely is a father again, in love, and living his best life.

As we told you back in June, Pat was remarried and expecting a child with new love Tamika Parks. Now that their baby is here, a girl named Eriel who is three months old, he’s finally ready to open up about his new life — and the questions about his old one.

In a feature in the new issue of PEOPLE, Pat opened up about his divorce from Gina Neely for the first time. The couple have been divorced for four years now, haven’t talked in that long, and when they made the decision to move on from one another, the 54-year-old admits it was very tough.

“At the time, I was hurting. I was devastated. And I didn’t have the words to explain it,” he said. “It was a challenging time, but it’s a chapter that has long passed me.”

And while Gina doesn’t have the most positive memories when it comes to their relationship (“I tried to leave five times…”) or their now defunct show, Down Home with the Neelys (“I never wanted to do that show”), Pat had more fond memories, particularly of their work on the hit Food Network series, which ran for 11 seasons.

“I truly had a blast,” he said. “One of the things that I’ll always cherish about Down Home with the Neelys was that I had an opportunity to get on television every day and invite people into our home. And I was able to share that with my high school sweetheart, a woman I truly loved, and to be me. I never had to act.”

But he understood her desire to move on from their marriage after they had made a dozen attempts (literally 12) to go to therapy and work on things. It just wasn’t going to happen.

“She made a decision that she wasn’t happy, and I respected that,” he said. “I didn’t give her a hard time.”

He does admit though, that he was worried about how fans of the show would take the news that the couple was calling it quits.

“I was so concerned that we had let them down, because I know they adored us together,” he said.

But life had to go on, and it certainly did for Pat. While taking part in the annual Tom Joyner cruise back in 2015, he met a 39-year-old nurse-anesthetist named Tamika Parks and they married in 2017. He was smitten.

“I guess you could say it was love at first sight,” he shared. “Tamika took me off guard.”

“She and I have a lot in common,” he added. “For one, we love family and we love children.”

And Tamika told the magazine that she loves that he stands by his word.

“What attracted me to him was his integrity,” she said. “He’s a man of his word. Everything that he ever said to me, he has done.”

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a fantastic chef: “I like to eat and he likes to cook, so it works.”

Aside from daughter Eriel, Tamika has a son from a previous relationship, a 5-year-old named Eijah, so Pat’s raising little kids again (he has daughter Shelbi, 23, with Gina and he helped raise her daughter, Spenser, 29, from a previous relationship). But he’s loving it, telling the magazine that “life is really good.” He hopes that his happily-ever-after will encourage other men who’ve dealt with similar heartbreak.

“I run across a lot of people, men in particular, who are going through what I went through four years ago,” he said. “I know it looks bleak now, but I tell them, ‘You just never know what wonderful things are in store for you.’”