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After father's death, Fox children become each other's strength

Nov. 23, 2011 at 5:23 a.m.
Updated Nov. 24, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.

Bailey Fox, 13, said she wants to go to college to be an ALS researcher. After her mother died, she wanted to be a nurse.

Bailey Fox, 13, said she wants to go to college to be an ALS researcher. After her mother died, she wanted to be a nurse.

It's the kind of fall day in Texas that makes everyone greet each other with a mention of weather teetering on crisp.

Sweets are for sale on the sidewalk outside the church. Wafting out its doors are a mix of chitchat and the kind of cooking that could have been created only over the course of hours.

Bailey Fox has grabbed the hand of her dad's girlfriend, and the two make their way to the end of the block to wave at cars.

Across the way, Tanner Fox's fingers curl out of his pockets. He stands tall among men twice his age, and he chimes into the conversation about who knows what.

The Fox children are casual, but the day is significant.

Only three months before, Tanner and Bailey buried their father next to their mother.

Craig Fox, a large man with a tendency toward laughter in any situation, died in August after almost a four-year battle with amyotrophic sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. During that time, the children watched their father first lose his ability to move his arms, then become captive to a wheelchair. The disease had begun to steal Fox's voice, his quips and jabs, too, eventually landing him in a hospitalbed in their grandparents' home.

Their mother, Nancy, died of a heart attack in 2005.

The suddenness of his mom's death had triggered Tanner's usually private emotions. But he became more pragmatic, more prepared for his father's death.

Scarcely old enough to need a razor himself, Tanner took to shaving his father's face in his final year. Bailey helped give her father exhausting daily breathing treatments and kept him company in front of the TV.

They became his caretakers - their father's strength.

"We're taken care of," Tanner would reassure his dad two days before he died.

This Sunday, the siblings were in front of the church because hundreds of people have heard their story and picked up where their parents could no longer be.

The barbecue fundraiser, which sold out of plates before it even began, would raise $9,000 for the Fox children's education.

"I gotta go to college now," Bailey says with her trademark jest.


Bailey is a full-fledged teenager, every bit of 13 years old. Her iPhone is encased in pink, which is forever gripped in one of her hands.

She's candid when it comes to just about everything, but especially fashion.

She's her father's daughter, mischievous with a quick wit - a comic relief in what have been the past few hellish years.

"I'm brunette, not blonde, you know," she says when talking about college.

When she graduates, she may want to go to Texas A&M University or head to San Marcos, where the shopping is good.

"I used to want to be a nurse when my mom was alive, and when she passed away, I changed my mind and wanted to be a dolphin trainer. We went on a cruise. I mean, it's been, like, changing," she says.

Now she's thinking about becoming a researcher for ALS, the disease she knows plenty about after caring for her father.

While watching TV on her dad's 55-inch screen, she sometimes drifts to sleep in his oversized recliner. The furniture still sits in Craig's "mancave" at his parents' home, where he and his children moved after he was diagnosed.

"It's quiet. Silent, actually," in the mancave now. "I feel safe," Bailey says before jetting to the bathroom to fix her contacts.

Bailey takes a few moments to wipe her eyes with the sleeve of her hoodie before she returns to twirling a spoon in slurpy chocolate ice cream that her eyes thought would fit in her belly.

She is uncharacteristically reserved when it comes to talking about her dad. But that's where her brother comes in.


Tanner is his mother's son.

Whereas Fox and his daughter could yak with any stranger, Tanner reserves his personality for those lucky enough to stir it out of him.

"My mom was a little, not necessarily secluded, but she kind of kept to herself and whenever she was around family or really close friends, that was the only time she really cut loose," Tanner says. "That's how I function."

He's matter-of-fact because he's thought about it a lot.

Tanner spends a lot of time in his mind, and it shows. He's 17 with the wisdom of a 70-year-old.

That's why he thinks he may go into psychology.

"I've been through so much, so I basically understand a lot. Why can't I help someone get through problems that are probably a whole lot smaller than mine?" he says.

Although his circumstances have forced him to grow up, Tanner seems as if he could have just as well become the introspective man he is on his own.

Get him to talk, and he talks a lot, with confidence and somehow an understanding of what would seem an inexplicable plight.

"Thinking kind of calms me down, so I mean I cry in my room in privacy and then think about it a little bit," he says. "And I think, what's the point in me crying? It's part of life."

Underneath thin-rimmed glasses and often a baseball cap, the only sign that Tanner is still a teenager is his smooth skin that gives way to a few freckles and rosy cheeks.

He doesn't much like going out to parties with friends, but he does enjoy outdoor sports like hunting and fishing. He also likes to play X-Box, especially in the mancave on his dad's TV - "a gamer's dream," he says.

He is most looking forward to crashing in the mancave to play games with his cousins this Thanksgiving after he goes to his mom's parents' home.

"We have two Thanksgivings, basically," Tanner says. "Thanksgiving dinner? No, not in my family. It's Thanksgiving lunch. They can't wait that long."


With all the heavy contemplation, Tanner has a playfulness on par with his father's.

He says he's as much a bickering brother to Bailey as he is her protector now - for example, the time he had hesitations about an outfit Bailey was wearing to a football game.

"I'm like, you can wear it. But I have eyes everywhere. I see a boy touch you, and he's going over the bleachers," Tanner says.

He says he'll probably stick around Victoria for at least the first few years of college.

Bailey "doesn't want me to go away immediately, and I don't either."

Besides, this is where he laid his parents to rest, he says, again matter-of-factly.

The day Fox was rushed to the hospital, Tanner had a dream. He says it left him with peace, even though his nuclear family was dwindling to just him and his sister.

First in the dream: a flashback of old home videos featuring Tanner and Bailey as kids, both looking like the perfect combination of their mother and father. Then, a fog took over the scene: Tanner saw his mom and dad holding hands, walking on a cloud.

"Walking, holding hands - two things I know I wanted my dad to have back," Tanner says. "I woke up that morning, and I said, 'I gotta prepare myself. This is not going to be easy to get through.'"

His role seems to have fallen into place two days before his father died, on a Monday Tanner says was the best and the worst day he can remember.

That's the day his father's health started to deteriorate in the ICU. But before Fox drifted into the unaware, Tanner was able to tell his father he secured a job, working part time for Magic Industries in Victoria.

That was when Tanner told his father he could take it from here.

"If you don't think you can go on anymore, let go. You're still going to do your job, whether you're here physically or not."



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