Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘There Is Nothing Better Than a Great Dad’

Tracy 1Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article – “There Is Nothing Better Than a Great Dad.”

In honor of (the recent celebration of) Father’s Day – I give you my take on having a great Dad.

My father has always been a great dad. I’m the older of two girls, and my dad was young when I appeared. He worked three jobs when I was a small child so that my mother could stay home. Later, he worked at a manufacturing company, and took all of the overtime that they offered. He hardly ever lost his temper, never spanked, and really only asked that we got good grades and stayed out of trouble.

Once, when I was twelve, we were throwing a ball around outside, and I asked, “Dad, did you ever wish I was a boy?” He looked at me like he was perplexed, and said, “Now why in the world would I have wanted you or your sister to be a boy? You can do anything a boy can do, girls are easier, and I couldn’t be happier.” It was a defining moment in my life, and I still remember it 35 years later.

Sometimes as a teenager or young adult, I would want to do something, and my dad would say, “You can’t do that.” It made me so mad that he underestimated me that I went ahead and did it anyway (applying for a job, switching jobs, switching majors in college). He probably did that to me ten times before I realized that that was his way of motivating me. The man knew me, and what made me tick.

He was always supportive, without getting in my business. He would give advice when asked, but never unsolicited. The man has a fantastic sense of humor, and makes me laugh like a fool.

When he was in his early 50’s, he had a massive heart attack. A helicopter flight, bypass and stents later, he was told that there was significant damage to his heart, and that he would never go back to work. Six weeks later he went back to work.

When his first grandchild was born, my dad showed up every day that he didn’t work to “give me a break.” He held him and played with him for hours. Today he has four teen and tween grandsons, two of whom live an hour and a half away. He attends every baseball, basketball, and football game that he can, plus concerts and shows. He is actively involved in all of their lives, and honestly, I think he likes being a grandpa even more than he enjoyed fatherhood. It is a joy to watch his relationship with his boys.

When I decided to start Nest Step Therapy, he was one of the first people I talked to. He gave me the most important advice about starting a successful business of anyone I talked to. I was smart enough to follow it, and can trace our success right back to that conversation. When the business was first opened and I realized that the money we had billed for wasn’t coming in as fast as I had anticipated, he and mom (along with a few friends) loaned me enough money to make payroll, keeping me from bankruptcy and never-ending shame.

A year after opening, we had grown so big, so fast, that we were able to purchase a former elementary school building. When the sale went through, my father approached me and told me that he wanted to be hired as the custodian. He told me that he had worked in retail for thirty years, that the hours were too long now, and standing on the concrete floor was too hard for him anymore. He told me that if he never had to do another Christmas season at a huge store again, it would be too soon. It was a conundrum for me. On the one hand, how could I say no to the man who had done so much for me? I knew he would do a good job. On the other hand, everybody knows that you NEVER HIRE RELATIVES. Bad form. I decided to hire him, and hoped for the best.

I could never have imagined how this would turn out. Eight years later, going on seventy years old, my dad still works for me. The building is always spotless – he treats it like a sports car that needs polished and babied. But that’s not the awesome part. Over the years, he has also taken on the role of “greeter.” He talks to all of the kids and all of the parents in the waiting room when they come for therapy. Some of those parents bring him gifts and treats.

He also functions as security. He knows every car in the lot, and knows immediately if someone is there who maybe shouldn’t be. He approaches all strangers. He has also over the years become a therapist to our staff. He holds court at the table in the kitchen, and the staff tells him all of their problems and concerns. He mostly gives support and empathy, but on more than one occasion he has saved a career.

I had hired a wonderful Occupational Therapist. She was SO good. But, our therapists are on the road, and her caseload was spread across two counties. She was in tears one day at the office, and it turned out that she was pretty much doing more driving than therapy. My dad sat her down with her client list and a map, and plotted out the most efficient route so that she wasn’t doubling back. He taught her that all clients in one area needed to be seen on the same day, back to back. By the time he was done with her, she had a manageable schedule and saved about twelve hours of backtracking. Had he not done that, she may have quit. She’s been a star employee for eight years now.

When my dad started at Next Step, he wasn’t terribly comfortable with kids with special needs. Now they are his favorite people! He has become part of the therapy and education that takes place there. We have three classrooms in our building – a Head Start, and two special needs preschools. The preschools have morning and afternoon groups, so we have four groups of 3-5 year olds with wheelchairs, feeding tubes, Down syndrome, Autism, and even blindness. The teachers realized early on that some of these kids who didn’t talk at all would talk to “Mista Denny.” They are fascinated with him.

The teachers started having the kids make birthday cards for him and sing Happy Birthday to him. He thought it was sweet, but was a little embarrassed. Then they started making him something for Christmas. My dad went to the teachers and said, “Hey, you guys don’t have to make a big deal out of my birthday and holidays like I’m something special.” The teachers said, “Oh Dennis, you don’t understand.” They explained that many of these children didn’t have a father or grandfather in their life, and that for some that did, they had never seen a man go to work. They had put it into their curriculum that things didn’t get done by magic; that they got done by people. They taught the kids that every time they went to the bathroom and it was clean with toilet paper, soap and paper towels that Mr. Denny had done that for them, and that they needed to be grateful. My dad is now a role model for small children.

My dad has had some health problems over the last few months, and had to take some time off. The kids worry, the teachers worry, the therapists worry, the office staff worries, and I’m worried. He is better now, and back to work, but the day is going to come when he can’t do it anymore, and we honestly don’t know what we will do when he leaves. Yes, I can find someone to clean, and I can find someone who is nice, but I’ll never find anybody who takes care of everybody like he does.

So here is my relationship with my dad now – hopefully it translates into print. We give all employees at NST a company cell phone, as they are on the road all day. We gave one to dad, too. He had never had one, and wasn’t too sure that he wanted one. He figured out pretty quick that in a building that size it was pretty convenient to be called directly rather than to run to the office. Over the years I kept telling him that he needed to learn to text. He refused for seven years. He said, “Now why would you want to text when you can just call?” I explained, “Dad, you know how it is….every time I call you, we talk for like 45 minutes. Sometimes you don’t have time to talk, and sometimes all you want is a yes or no answer. Besides, for situations like sitting in the stands at a ballgame, you can text the score and stuff without interrupting everybody else.” No go.

Last fall, my son Eli went to spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I was in Ohio, and I get a text message FROM MY DAD’S PHONE! It said, “Eli is teaching me to text.” I nearly fell out of my chair. Couldn’t believe it. I texted Eli and said, “Teaching grandpa to text? Go you!” Eli texts me back, “I know, right? They learn so quick!” I laughed forever, shared that with with my dad, and of course he shared it with the whole staff.

My dad starts texting me. Eventually, we get to a week where he texts me with something on Monday. I text back. He texts me with something on Wednesday. I text back. When he texts me on Thursday, I hit the call button. He answered, and I said, “Dad, now that you’ve started texting you never call me anymore!” My dad says, “Well you know Trace, sometimes you don’t have time for a 45 minute call. Sometimes you just want a yes or no answer!” I could not stop laughing. That’s my dad. Remember something verbatim, hold on to it for a few years, and give it back to me when I least expect it so that I can laugh all day. It’s priceless.

Happy (belated) Father’s Day to all of you fathers out there who have supported your kids, been there for them, and made them laugh. There is nothing quite like the relationship that you have with a father who loves you.

~Tracy


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