Now, more than two years after his wife's death, Rory Feek is going it alone, both as a performer and a dad. Anthony Mason dropped in on him at home:
Rory Feek made his name as one half of the duo, Joey and Rory. Today, singing alone on the back porch of his Tennessee farm, he still feels he has a partner.
"It's been two-and-a-half years since Joey passed away," he told Mason. "I feel just as married and just as in love. And I feel like she's just as much a part of our life as she was."
Joey was just 40 when she lost her fight with cancer in 2016. At first, Rory didn't want to be on stage without his wife.
But last fall, he started performing again:
Mason asked, "How did it feel when you got back out there?"
"Surreal and strange, a little wrong in some ways. But on the other side of it, it felt strangely familiar."
He has another partner now: his youngest daughter, four-year-old Indiana. "At some point I'll say, 'I have a special guest in the audience. Indy, do you wanna come up here with Papa?' And she'll just come marching right up there. And she'll get all nervous onstage. But it's just the cutest thing!"
Rory Feek was an aspiring songwriter when he arrived in Nashville in 1995, a single dad with two girls, Heidi and Hope
"In a lot of ways," he writes in his new book, "Once Upon a Farm," "I think the girls raised me, while I was raising them."
One Mother's Day, Heidi, the eldest, brought home something from crafts class: "Apparently, I made him an ash tray," Heidi laughed. "Since I was required to make this Mother's Day gift. I said, 'Well, fine. Happy Mother's Day, Dad!'"
"It's actually one of the most treasured things I've ever got from the kids,' Rory said. "And it stays upstairs on my desk filled with guitar picks."
Rory would audition his new songs for the girls:
Mason asked. "Did you ever tell him a song was just no good?"
"I just told them they were all hits!" laughed Hope.
In 1998, one finally was a hit. Rory's song, "Someone You Used to Know" climbed to #3 on the Country chart for singer Collin Raye:
"And the royalties from that song bought this farmhouse," Rory said. "That's how we got here." Now, he has a little over 100 acres.
Not long after, Rory met Joey. Now, he's a single father again.
"How are you feeling about that?" Mason asked.
"I'm learning. I'm getting better. I got another shot at it!" he laughed.
Rory's first challenge came just days after Joey died, when he could sense his middle daughter, Hope, had something on her mind: "I said, 'Just tell me, Hopie.' And she went on to tell me that her friend, Wendy, is more than her friend, and that she was in love."
Hope said, "That was a very hard conversation to have. It was at this very kitchen table."
"You were afraid he was gonna judge you?" asked Mason.
"Do you think he did at that moment?"
"Yes, I did."
Rory added, "She's asking me, 'Are you still gonna love me?' And my first reaction, honestly, was, 'I don't think so.'"
"You weren't sure?"
"Because my conservative Christian faith, that has saved me, that has made it possible to have any joy and peace and love in my life, the first reaction is that challenges that immensely."
And what did Hope see in her father when he was working through this? "He didn't know how to accept who I was at that moment. And I think that was very understandable."
But Rory says he soon realized it was another challenged, just as he was challenged when Indiana was born with Down syndrome, and when Heidi declared herself an atheist.
Rory said, "My job is to love her, even when it's hard, or even when I don't agree or even if I don't understand, I still love her. I can still love her completely."
Mason asked, "Do you accept?"
"Yes. Of course I do."
"Do you accept who she is, and hope she'll change?"
"That's a good question. I'd like to love Hopie and Heidi unconditionally, which means if they don't ever change, I don't love them less."
Hope laughed: "He's come a very long stride!"
This fall, Hope and Wendy will be married on the family farm.
When asked how he feels about himself as a father these says, Rory replied, "In general I feel pretty good! You know, I know who I was before. I know the mess I was. And I'm less mess today!"
He may be a single father again, but surrounded by his daughters, Rory Feek is anything but a solo act.
FROM THE ARCHIVE: (08/04/16)
For more info:
- "Once Upon a Farm: Lessons on Growing Love, Life, and Hope on a New Frontier" by Rory Feek (Thomas Nelson), available via Amazon
- Follow @joeyandrory on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube
Story produced by Ramon Parkins.