Before WKU junior Brittany Greeson was even finished shooting her story on a single father for her Picture Stories class, it was already being considered as an entry candidate for the Hearst Journalism Awards Program. This week, we present Greeson’s story as the first post of an ongoing series entitled Focus On, which highlights some of the extraordinary talent coming out of the photojournalism program at Western Kentucky University.
A Father at 60
In the hilly countryside of Fordsville, Ky., 60-year-old Faron Cox spends his days in the same double wide trailer where he spent his childhood. Following the loss of his father in 2006, Cox inherited the home in addition to the expanse of land he now looks after.
At an age when most are retiring, Cox faces the daily challenges and struggles of raising his two youngest sons, Faron “Bear” Cox, 8 and Skylor “Tiber” Cox, 4.
Reality hits often for Faron as he finds himself worrying about the demands of childcare and his diminishing health. He relies on his disability check and pain medication for his back to get through the fiscal and physical challenges of each day.
A tense and complicated relationship with the children’s mother leaves Faron as a single father. Now, he questions the time he has left to watch his children grow.
Faron Jr. and Skylor play on the rope swings outside of their home as their father pushes them. “When I first had my first three kids, back in the 70’s I thought that was it. I wasn’t thinking about having another wife or more kids and then more kids. It never entered my mind. You don’t regret having your kids. That’s actually the only thing you’ve got to show for in life other than the memories of the ones that are gone,” Faron said.
Faron changes Skylor’s diaper on the make-shift bed in their living room. Faron has had to delay pre-school for Skylor because Skylor has had difficulties with potty training as well as concerns about his speech development.
After waking him at dawn for the school day, Faron has a discussion with Faron Jr. about his behavior in school and the expectations he has set. Faron gets the kids ready each day, brushing their hair, putting their shoes on and getting them dressed before he drives the 7 miles between Faron Jr.’s school and their home.
Faron holds the daily dosage he has to take for the arthritis causing his constant back pain. After working a variety of physical jobs his entire life he say it is now wearing him down. New health problems have left him feeling weaker than usual, but because he can’t find trustworthy childcare, he hasn’t had the time to visit the town physician.
Faron takes a moment to rest his eyes after a long day when his kids were actively playing. He often struggles to keep up with them and takes on a more observant role. “I get tired with everything. A lot of times they’re out of control or off tearing up something. It’s a young persons job. If you was in your twenties or thirties you’d be able to cope with stuff like that but I have to deal with it. What else ya gonna to do,” Faron said.
Despite complaints of back pain and feeling sickly, Faron cuts a stockpile of wood for the wood stove that functions as the main heat source for his home.
“My mom and dads all gone and everything’s all gone. I’ve got my dads land here, all 55 acres, and it takes a lot of work to keep it going,” Faron said.
Faron takes a moment to step out onto the porch after a day without the kids around. At random, the children’s mother will take them to town to visit but will often bring them back home within hours. Faron describes the tense and often verbally aggressive relationship with the children’s mother as emotionally draining.
Faron’s oldest son, Darrin Cox, 40, plays catch with Skylor as Faron and Faron Jr. discuss plans for school. While Darrin shares the property with his father, their relationship is strained and distant and Faron has retained most of the responsibility for taking care of the land.
Leaning by what he refers to as his “thinking window”, Faron takes a few moments of silence as the kids watch television. “It scares me thinking at my age you don’t know how much longer you got left. I’m just hoping I live long enough to see the little things get on their feet. You often wonder what your kids are going to do or how they’re going to react when you’re gone,” Faron said.
WKU NPPA’s Naomi Driessnack sat down with Greeson to talk through the experience she had shooting Faron’s story:
ND: What lead you to this story?
BG: I got kind of lucky because I feel like he (Faron) wanted his story to be told. When I shot the story, I was basically living on the property so that I could spend 24 hours with him.
ND: When you first met him, what did he say that made you think he wanted his story told?
BG: He was just so open, it’s so rare that you meet someone without a guard up. He told me everything. He was like “I am raising these kids and struggling with this…,” and I opened up about my life and explained my job and why stories like his are important to others. Part of it was his loneliness, but part of it also was that he needed someone to listen to him and I feel like a story like this was important for me because I too often question whether or not the stories I do have purpose. When I feel like someone wants a voice that lets me create a better story because they want it. He needed someone to talk to and now he is talking to a large audience because a camera was there.
ND: What has been the most rewarding part of the story for you?
BG: My mom was a single mom, and I realized that parenting is so hard, and I feel like the story helped me grow up more. I went back to my mom and said; “I don’t know how you did it…I’m so sorry that I was such a butthead when I was a kid.” I felt like I wasn’t just a fly on the wall. Those late night talks we had, where I would just put my camera down and we would just eat beans together and chill, that was awesome.
ND: What was the most challenging part?
BG: It was really hard emotionally. I can’t be numb. The first time that I went out and shot, I was supposed to make it three days but I only could make it two and a half because I was so emotionally and mentally exhausted. Faron opened up to me so much and told me so much about how depressed he is, he tells me everything. Dealing with that and seeing what they are going through, seeing the poverty, I just kind of needed to get out of there and rest my mind because I found myself wanting to save them and started wanting to take care of the kids, and I can’t do that.
ND: What has been the most important thing you have learned?
BG: I think I’ve learned most importantly that at the end of the day, creating a beautiful image and achieving success as a photographer is cool, but if I lay in bed at night and I still haven’t done anything to touch someone’s life or if I haven’t been good to my subjects then my job is meaningless. I would burn out really quickly if I didn’t feel like I was being good to them, so being kind and gentle and opening up to your subjects and viewing them as human beings is the most important thing. Faron is another human being who could have been my grandfather. I think it’s maintaining those relationships and never burning bridges will help improve the reputation photographers have because I feel like a lot of us have a negative reputation because we take so much, but how much do we give back?