Readers who pick up This Life I Live: One Man’s Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever — the new book from Rory Feek — will no doubt be surprised at some of the book’s revelations.
The book discusses his relationship with late wife Joey Martin Feek and her battle against cancer, but the songwriter behind such hits as Easton Corbin’s “A Little More Country Than That” also goes deep into his life before he and Joey married, including details about one of his previous relationships — with the wife of one of his best friends.
He also talks about his brief criminal record for jumping onto a train and opening several boxes of Froot Loops. While it’s not Merle Haggard territory, many who known him as the ultimate example of “for better or worse” will be taken off guard. Feek says that for him, honesty was the best and only policy.
“I felt like it was important (to be honest). Joey and I tried very hard to be honest from the very beginning. I think that’s the part of our story that makes it so extraordinary. I don’t think it’s that special if you’re just an amazing guy or woman, and you have such an amazing marriage. That doesn’t feel extraordinary. You don’t have any perspective on it. But, if it’s taken some hard work and prayer to change, then it means so much more.”
The book also details his growing pains as a father to his two oldest daughters, Hopie and Heidi. “I feel like I’ve tried, especially as time has gone on, to be honest with my girls, and to let them see that I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Sometimes, if your children can see that you are human and you’re trying, and you own up to your mistakes, they will see that you’ve overcame them as you went along. That encourages them, and they see ‘Hey, Mom or Dad have come a long way, and they’re human, too,’ that makes it more relatable for them, too. At least I hope they see that and the effort I’ve put into to live a better life, and to be a better man.”
Feek stands amazed at how God’s will and providence has influenced his life — even when he didn’t see his life unfolding as it has. “I feel that a lot of my story is very Forrest Gump-like. There’s been some foolish decision that made no sense, or times where I wasn’t really sure, but it just felt like I was on the right path. Whether it was the right one or the wrong one, it became the right one in the way that it led you to where you’re supposed to be, That’s how our story has been all along, whether it be buying a farmhouse, or us doing a TV show, or opening a restaurant. I don’t know if any of those things make sense on paper, but they change your life forever. In writing the book, I get to see those happen again.”
Feek insists that the couple everyone came to know and love didn’t always have a perfect union — at least early on. At the time of their marriage, Joey saw her solo record deal disappear, and the two clashed over children. While he wasn’t for sure he wanted to be a father again, she was adamant about not having children. Of course, her opinion on that matter evolved, as daughter Indiana turns three on Feb. 17. He feels that God had his hand on the couple all along the way. “That’s why I think it’s important to tell the story the way that it happened. That’s where you see the magic.
“It wasn’t some calculated decision where one thing led to another because we did everything right. It was all about making the best decisions that we can, and you may not even understand why. You go down a path, and you wonder ‘Is this right?’ You get disappointed and heartbroken, and you might think ‘This is a failure.’ Then, you realize that God didn’t allow something to happen because he had something even more wonderful in store for us. That just keeps happening again and again in our lives.”
What lessons would Feek love for readers to come away with from the book? “Somebody mentioned to me the other day that what they took from our story was that you’re never too old to change. That’s one of the things that I feel like when I look at our lives. We were evolving, and we showed up in each other’s lives in a particular way. She was already an amazing woman, but God did have more work for her life and in her character to do, as well as in mine. That’s one of the great parts of the story is that we came in with our baggage, but he took it and made it go away. He then re-booted our lives the way that we wanted it to be. He broke our hearts at times, but it was the only way that he could get us to where he wanted us to be. I wouldn’t change a moment of it, because it’s the greatest gift.”
The book also reveals an up and down relationship with his mother Rita, which seemed to get easier with time. He speaks of her passing in 2014, which helped him prepare for what he didn’t know was around the corner in the life of he and his wife. “I didn’t realize that was happening at the time. My mom prepared the both of us for what was going to be her walk and journey. She lived her life with joy. That was unusual. There were no regrets. We saw her every Sunday. She was also special in how she lived her life. There were times we didn’t see eye to eye, or I didn’t understand her. I might be frustrated with her, or her me, I’m sure. I was also inspired by her, especially later in life. My story is one that, I believe, is of change and redemption. My mother’s was the same way. To see people change in life is very rare. It’s so hard to do, but she did. She was an amazing woman.”
The latter part of This Life I Live delves into Joey’s battle with cervical cancer and the public way that the couple dealt with what was going on around them. “We had made a decision early on in our career – we didn’t understand the way that careers tended to be in that you had a music business life that was totally separate from your business life…We always said that if we ever got a chance to really perform and be artists, let’s just be ourselves, with no difference between our home life and our music. That wasn’t always easy, but that’s what we did.”
When asked if there ever was a point that he regretted letting the public in, he is forthright and emotional with his answer. “Joey and I are fans of country music, and our heroes were authentic. The best way to do that is to be honest, so that’s what we tried to do. Probably the hardest moment came around November of 2015. We had a conversation about the blog I was writing, and we talked about whether we would share photos as it got more and more real. We had a bunch of conversations about it, and I remember reaching out to my sister who is a breast cancer survivor, and asking them what they thought.
“Everyone said ‘That’s the most important thing. It would take a lot of courage to be honest all the way through, but if you could do it….what a difference it could make.’ Joey just said ‘Done.’ So it was really her being brave, and me doing my best to try to tell the story and lift her up in the best light that I could. That was the hardest moment. If she didn’t want to do it, and wanted complete privacy, you would have never seen a photo of her at nothing but her very best. She and I knew that it would be the most important thing that either of us would do in our lives, more important than music.”
The music of Joey Martin Feek has continued to get attention since her March 2016 passing. The couple’s Hymns That Are Important To Us disc has been certified Gold since its release last February and just won the 2017 best roots gospel album Grammy, and she appears on Call Me Old-Fashioned, the latest disc from Bradley Walker. Feek and Walker co-produced the album, as he offered the singer the opportunity to sing in duet form with Joey on a cut that had never been released before, “In The Time That You Gave Me.” ?
“It does mean a lot. I love her voice. I’m so thankful that her voice is still as beautiful, and as loud and as clear as ever. To be a part of the Bradley project was great. We love him with all of our heart, and believe in him and his talent. To have her on a song that we had never shared before on his record meant a lot. That was pretty neat to have that. I love that her music is still out there being shared, and that people are discovering it. I think that’s just a beautiful thing.”
This Life I Live: One Man’s Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever will be released Tuesday (Feb. 14).