When Wesley Fox was 19 years old, fresh into his first college semester, his girlfriend sat him down: She was pregnant.
Fox didn’t question whether to step up to the teen parenting plate.
Instead, he thought of his own father, who toiled in construction. He thought of his parents’ divorce and of his mom, struggling to raise two kids while working as a waitress.
Fox had wanted to go to college and build a professional career to support his family and to fulfill his own dreams.
“I literally thought my future was over,” Fox recalls. “I figured my education was out the window, and I might as well get to the grind.”
He and his girlfriend welcomed tiny Cameron into the world, married and had a second daughter, Carlie Matilde. Yet, when they moved to Summerville seven years ago, their marriage failed.
They divorced, and his ex-wife moved to North Carolina. She visits the girls, but Fox joined the growing ranks of single dads stepping up to that parenting plate largely alone.
The growth in single mothers has generated nationwide headlines recently, and they still far outnumber their male counterparts.
But single dads also are on the rise.
In 1970, there were 393,000 single fathers in the United States. Last year, there were nearly 2 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
About 44 percent of single dads today are divorced. A growing chunk, 31 percent, never married.
Like single moms, most struggle to balance work, children, households and myriad other demands without spousal help.
Yet, like their female counterparts, they also get the dibs on daily life’s priceless parenting moments.
Take Fox, who will celebrate this Father’s Day, if past years are any indication, with breakfast in bed and homemade cards from the two girls who have become his life’s biggest inspiration.
Bryant Kohut knew his future son-in-law was special when, at 19, Fox embraced his parenting responsibility.
“Where a lot of guys would have walked away, he didn’t,” says Bryant, Fox’s ex-father-in-law. “It’s easy to run, and he didn’t do that.”
Despite becoming a teen father, Fox’s grandparents urged him to finish college.
So, he worked construction and at UPS in the wee hours while taking classes. He graduated with a degree in nuclear medicine and took a job at Trident Medical Center in North Charleston.
Following the divorce, Fox is thankful for and encourages the girls maintaining a long-distance relationship with their mother.
But at 30, Fox’s days are a ceaseless bustle that many parents know too well.
He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every day, gets himself and the girls ready and out the door, then hits work at Trident Medical Center by 7:15 a.m. There, he is a PET/CT coordinator working with imaging for patients with fresh cancer diagnoses and those being evaluated after treatment, successful or not.
“It makes me have a great appreciation for life,” Fox says.
He works until 4:30 p.m., picks up the girls, tackles dinner and the shuttling of 11-year-old Cameron to piano and horseback riding lessons and 7-year-old Carlie’s gymnastics and Girl Scout meetings. Then there are laundry piles, dishes, grocery shopping, you name it.
On top of all of that, he went back to school at The Citadel and just received his MBA. Many nights, he stayed up studying long after Cameron and Carlie went to bed.
“They gave me a reason to do it,” Fox says. “I work hard to be able to provide for them and to be a role model for them.”
Fox lives 10 doors down from his ex-wife’s parents. Bryant and Cheryl Kohut moved to Summerville several years ago after Bryant retired from the Navy.
Today, they help with everything from getting Cameron and Carlie off the bus to doing homework and getting the girls to and from activities.
Fox calls them “great people.” The feeling is mutual.
“We couldn’t pick a better father for our grandchildren,” Bryant says.
There are those moments when being a single dad can make a father laugh — or cringe. Things such as menstrual periods, boys, girls and body hair.
Because Fox works in health care, discussing the human body doesn’t make him squeamish. He also grew up largely with a single mom and a sister.
“There was a lot of estrogen around while I was growing up,” he says. “That has helped.”
And he’s tapped many a good book to help explain adolescence’s dicier topics.
“We keep it open and honest,” he says. “I’m not going to shy away from these things.”
He’s manned Girl Scout cookie tables with other girls and their moms and set up countless play dates and carpools.
He, Cameron and Carlie also used to have nail night once a week. Fox learned how to do a mean French manicure, braid hair and do make-up for dance recitals — all from YouTube.
He’s even taken the girls to a nail salon.
“Yes, I am usually the only man in there and have been convinced to try out a pedicure, which I was thoroughly impressed by,” he says.
However, he has noticed that lots of kid-related activities are called things like Mothers Morning Out, Mothers & More, Mommy and Me and MOMS Clubs.
But he understands.
“There’s a bias on many levels,” he says. “It has been the culture for years, and now the culture is changing as more women are in the workforce.”
Cameron is about to start middle school and was accepted to Rollings Middle School of the Arts for piano. Carlie is at Knightsville Elementary in Summerville. Fox proudly works in a mention of their good grades.
It’s far from what he imagined when he became a young father.
“I had no clue,” he says. “All I knew was that it was no longer my turn to play. But I wanted to take full responsibility for the child I was bringing into the world.”
He doesn’t know any other single fathers, although he wonders if it’s becoming more common as more women enter the workforce and more fathers seek custody after divorces. It is not always a given anymore that a child’s mother will become the primary caregiver.
Regardless, Fox doesn’t have a lot of time for his own social life. He’s too busy raising children.
“Every decision of every day comes back to my family,” Fox says.
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