(CNN) — Faron Cox lives in the same house where he grew up, on the same 55 acres in rural western Kentucky that belonged to his father. He had worked in the area for years and raised his children to adulthood.
But then, as Cox came up on 60 years, he became a father once again.
First there was Faron Jr., now 8, then Skylor, 4.
When photographer Brittany Greeson met the family, she assumed the boys were Cox’s grandchildren. Their mother is around, but Cox is their primary caretaker, the one providing food, clothes, shelter and support. He has handled the diaper changes and teeth brushing and tough talks about schoolwork.
Still, it was clear Cox was frustrated by feelings that these were the jobs of a younger man — and worried about what would happen to his youngest children if their dad wasn’t around. He just wanted to live long enough “to see the little things get on their feet,” he told Greeson.
“He’s doing all the things that a dad should do,” Greeson said. “But you look at his face and hands, you can tell he’s just stressed.”
Greeson photographed the family in February 2014, when the boys were 7 and 3. She shot them for a class at Western Kentucky University, where she’s a student. It was one of the first stories she’d ever tried to capture, she said, and the first time she’d ever spent several days embedded in another family’s daily routines, from the joyous bursts of playtime to tough moments of discipline.
Although Cox spoke to Greeson often, she said she could only guess at what he’s thinking. He often seemed to be mulling things over and continuing on as though he didn’t notice her camera. He never second-guessed her, even when her lens was inches from his face or capturing an intimate moment.
“I would not have shot this story if he hadn’t been so open to it,” said Greeson, who has lived in western Kentucky since she was 12. “He owns who he is.”
Greeson said she thinks Cox wanted a chance to share his perspective, and to show how much work goes into keeping up a home and family. Cox is on disability and has constant pain. Still, he splits wood to warm the house and make sure his boys arrive at school on time.
For all the long, exhausting hours, Greeson said, it was easy to see the wonder his boys found in their wooded surroundings, and the affection they had for their father. It was “pure joy,” Greeson said, to see little Skylor wrap his arms around his father’s neck and shower him in little kisses.
“I generally think that he wants something better for his boys,” Greeson said. “He loves them, and they can tell he loves them.”
Greeson said she’d like to keep following the family to see what the boys’ futures hold. She wants others to see the images and think about the fragility of their own family dynamics, and to appreciate where they grew up.
She’s grateful, too, that Cox allowed her in.
“All the great stories out there, it’s a collaboration,” she said. As photographers, “we leave our careers in the hands of other people.”