Raising Lexi Caudill was an unexpected gift in Max Cody's life.
Although the idea of attending high school soccer games and listening to girlish squeals about boy bands was not the picture Cody had of life in his 60s, eight years after he took custody of his granddaughter, he can't imagine life any other way.
In Kentucky, more than 57,000 children live in households headed by grandparents, and more than 12,000 are living with other relatives, according to the AARP Foundation and other social programs. Countless others are caring for an elderly loved one or someone with a short-term illness.
Cody has coped with many common caregiver woes. The complications with his daughter, Lexi's mom, aren't something Cody dwells on. It's just that when Lexi, now a ninth- grader, was 7, it was clear her mother couldn't care for her anymore.
"I just wanted to give her a stable environment," Cody said.
A gregarious guy who spent his professional years in broadcasting, Cody avoided the trap that some caregivers fall into. He didn't isolate. He sought help. He found it through church groups and Grandparents as Parents, a state-funded group that provides resources for grandparents and other relatives as caregivers. The support he received included determining what benefits his granddaughter might be eligible and a kind, listening ear.
"There is a wonderful network of people who have supported us," he said. "Thank God for that."
That network extends beyond official channels, he said. A friend of the family stepped in as Lexi's unofficial mom, providing answers to those questions that a granddad might not feel comfortable with.
"When she was going into the whole female thing, I was sweating bullets," Cody said. "I knew she was going to need a womanly role model."
Taking care of Lexi has reordered his life. Cody, who is divorced from Lexi's grandmother, who lives in Western Kentucky, said dating has moved to the back burner as he raises his granddaughter. His days are filled with soccer games — Lexi plays for Lafayette High School — choir practices and the general running around that comes with raising a teenage girl.
Even with the help he has sought and received, Cody said the social service system can be difficult to navigate. Currently looking for work, he said, he has "financially walked a tight rope" at times to make ends meet.
But the support he has been given has inspired him to give back, and he volunteers regularly with Lexington non-profits, he said.
"I have learned that as long as I'm involved in the lives of other people and helping other people, it diminishes my stress," he said.