Jared Wheatley operates two businesses out of his office space in the Miles Building in downtown Asheville — WTAPS Construction and the Épatage Workwear clothing line. But as Asheville City Schools heads into fall with plans for all-remote instruction, the busy single father has added a third enterprise, something he refers to as the “school of dad.”
Wheatley co-parents his two children, Alexis, 10, and Ezekiel, 8, both students at Vance Elementary, with ex-wife Jessica Wheatley, who has a health condition that puts her in a high-risk category for severe symptoms if she were to contract COVID-19. For the first three months of the coronavirus quarantine, as Jared’s businesses demanded that he interact with clients, he made the hard choice to forgo contact with his children to avoid jeopardizing Jessica’s health. “This was a nightmare as a father,” says Jared. “I really embrace being a 50% [shared custody] single dad.”
By mid-June, the two households had devised a new normal for joint parenting focused on minimizing risks and maximizing learning options for the children. “When we got out of quarantine as a family, we basically, as a business, decided to shift out of project-pursuit mode into more of a balance of work that allows me to essentially work part time,” Jared explains. He’s reduced in-person meetings and communicated with clients about social distancing practices for times when getting together is necessary.
He recently reconfigured his office layout to include a dedicated educational space for Alexis and Ezekiel. With traditional school routines disrupted, the family opted for what Jared calls a “steadier path,” implementing some lessons during the summer. Though he likes to let the daily rhythm be guided by the children’s interests and engagement, a typical day might start with running and jumping jacks at home in Montford before heading to the office/classroom for English, handwriting and math worksheets followed by independent study projects — Alexis is designing a board game, for example, based on her interest in zoology — while Jared catches up with clients.
Every other week, the children follow a conventional curriculum with Jessica.
Keeping education as their focal point, Jared says, has helped the Wheatleys stay on course as they navigate parenting with split households during the pandemic. “I don’t think we’re the only blended family who’s seeing that it’s culturally easier to have separate living environments when you have that single line of school drawing the communication together.”
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.