Greeneville father hopes to start local chapter of ‘Dads of Steele’ grief support group

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GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – One father in Greeneville is hoping to change the lives of other fathers across the region who are grieving the loss of a child.

In 2016, Andy McCall and his wife Ellen, lost their firstborn child, Penelope to cancer. The diagnosis was unexpected and sudden, leaving them with little time to complete a bucket list, making Penelope’s final days on this earth her happiest.

While her final days were filled with love and joy, her death left behind sorrow and unanswered questions.

“You wake up every day missing a piece of yourself and I still live every day with it as the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to bed,” said McCall.

McCall tried to channel his grief in many ways, he even wrote a book Pigtails & Steel about his late daughter Penelope and their experience. However, he said it wasn’t until he joined the grief support group ‘Dads of Steele‘ that he realized he wasn’t managing his grief as well as he could be.

The group is based out of Chicago, founded by a father who also lost his child. Other dads in the Chicago area joined the group as well. Sam Perri said he actually went to high school with the founder and heard about the group through his younger brother. He’s been in the group for two years, following the passing of his son in October 2017 due to an undiagnosed heart condition.

Perri said the group has helped him in more ways than he could have ever imagine.

“I tried the traditional therapy and although it helped out, firsthand, dealing with dads who are going through this, and dealing with it on a daily basis, has helped me even more,” said Dads of Steele Chicago Member, Sam Perri.

McCall said he can’t remember if the group found him, or if he found the group, but he’s glad it happened. Now, he wants to start a local chapter here in the Tri-Cities to let grieving fathers in the region know others are going through this too and they have support.

“It’s hard for us to put ourselves out there and be emotional because society told us at one point boys aren’t supposed to cry, boys aren’t supposed to be emotional and you’ve got to be strong, and you can be strong and still talk about it too,” said McCall.

News Channel 11 reached out to a mental health professional with ETSU who said a group like this can prove incredibly beneficial, especially to those who are really struggling with managing grief.

“Groups live this can save lives. It can cause somebody to change the course of their entire life and put it back on track,” said Professor & Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Jon Ellis.

The group meets on zoom every Sunday and talks anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. Some people join the meetings, just to listen. McCall said no one is forced into sharing but that’s what the group is all about, listening to others and realizing you’re not alone.

With meetings on zoom, it allows for people from all over to join and share their stories, but once the pandemic comes to an end, he does hope to host local in-person meetings.

For now, he just wants to let fathers across the region know that this resource is out there.

“As many people as we can reach, the better. Whether it’s in Greeneville or regional, that’s the beauty of zoom, anyone can join in,” said McCall.

If you’re interested in joining, you can head to their website, fill out this contact form, or email Andy McCall directly at Andy@dadofsteele.com. You can also follow them on Instagram @DoSGriefSupport.

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