Rory Feek Says Daughter with Down Syndrome 'Just Needs Love' 4 Years After Mother's Death
"Most little girls have a mother. Indiana has a lot of mothers," the Grammy winner says of the family's strong support system four years after wife Joey Feek's death
Indiana Feek is dreaming big!
In the four years since Joey died at the age of 40 after a brave battle with cervical cancer, Rory says he’s found uplifting answers to questions he and Joey had when Indiana was born with Down syndrome on the family’s farm in Columbia, Tennessee, on Feb. 17, 2014.
“I think she can be whatever she wants to be, and Joey and I did not know that,” the country singer, 54, says of raising a child with special needs. “She just needs love, just like everybody else.”
This is Rory’s second time being a single dad. He first raised his adult daughters from a previous relationship, Hopie, 31, and Heidi, 33, on his own prior to his marrying Joey — one half of the Grammy-winning music duo Joey+Rory — in 2002.
“My experience raising Indiana is no different than raising Heidi and Hopie,” Rory says. “Really, it’s the same. And the thing is, she doesn’t suspect that there’s anything different about her. She has no thought in the world.”
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These days Rory and Indiana’s mornings begin with a walk to the Hardison Mill Schoolhouse, which the community built on the family farm using about $100,000 that came in from across the nation after Joey’s death. In the adorable one-room schoolhouse, Indy learns alongside all kinds of classmates from the community.
“We needed to come up with another plan since Joey wasn’t going to be able to homeschool Indy,” he says, calling the school “an amazing opportunity” that’s serving Indy well. In the first episode of This Life I Live, a new docuseries about the family’s life that airs Sundays on RFD-TV, Indy beams with excitement as she reads flash cards aloud.
“Indiana’s smile lights up not just the room, but the world,” her father tells PEOPLE.
After school, she comes home to Rory and the rest of her family, including aunts Marcy and Candy.
“We’ve settled into a really wonderful life. Both of my sisters live on the farm with us,” says Rory, whose daughter Hopie lives nearby, while Heidi lives in neighboring Alabama. “Most little girls have a mother. Indiana has a lot of mothers.”
Reflecting on how his sisters and daughters make him a better father, Rory tells PEOPLE, “The first thing is, they tell me I’m a good father and that means a lot to me. I think they watch and they know my intentions and they know the work that I do and the time that I spend.”
“They want to help where they can help,” he adds. “Last night, my sister Marcy invited us over for dinner and I was like, ‘I shouldn’t come over.’ We were over to her house the night before for dinner. I was like, ‘I didn’t want to come over tonight.’ And she’s like, ‘That’s what this is for. You know that’s what this is for, right? That’s why we’re here. This is what we do. That’s the whole point.'”
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The New York Times best-selling author also gets sweet support from his daughters.
“My older girls, they want to help. ‘What can I do to help you, Dad? What can I do to help the baby?’ I think that’s a really special thing, just to be surrounded by so much love and encouragement with your family and your extended family too,” he says.
Amid all the changes in their life — including the TV show, Rory’s new music, and a new restaurant dedicated to Joey, Marcy Jo’s Muletown — Rory often catches glimpses of his late wife in their spunky daughter’s joy and headstrong attitude.
“I used to look at Joey and think, ‘How in the world did I get this lucky?'” he says. “This morning Indy climbed in bed with me and she was ready to get up and I was not ready to get up yet. I just held her and the sun was coming in and she fell sound asleep. By then I’m wide awake and I just looked at her and I thought, ‘How in the world did I get so lucky to be with such a pretty, sweet, wonderful little one?'”