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Doug Tripp put fatherhood ahead of his own pursuit of happiness. Now, at home and at his business, he's surrounded by family.

If a woman wanted to win Doug Tripp's heart, she had to first win the heart of his little girl.

She had to enjoy dates that revolved around Barbies and ice cream.

She had to spend one night a week doing whatever Tripp's little girl wanted to do.

In the end, it came down to shared love of the self-proclaimed King of Pop before 6-year-old Loran Tripp gave the go-ahead for the pretty blond pharmaceutical sales rep to marry her daddy.

"Apparently I decided she was okay after I got to listen to her Michael Jackson tapes," the now-grownup Loran recalled of how Holly Tripp came to be her stepmother.

But for several years before that, after a divorce from Loran's mother and a hard-fought custody battle, father and daughter were on their own.

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In 1985, Doug was a sales manager for Pulte Corp., a national home builder. He was assigned to an office right in front of La Petite Academy, Loran's day care center. While his colleagues power lunched, noon typically found Doug at the day care center.

Olga Finch looked fondly on the single father.

"At that time, men just didn't do those things," said Finch, a former colleague who handled mortgages for Pulte. Finch, a grandmotherly sort, kept a stash of toffees that drew Loran to her office. "It was wonderful the way he was with his little girl."

Finch said Tripp set a good example for his daughter. In the sometimes coarse world of commission sales, Tripp was always the gentleman. In 20 years, Finch never heard him use crude language or badmouth anyone.

"He was everything a father should be," she said.

Finch remembers how Tripp dressed Loran in sunsuits and fixed her hair.

"It would not have been fixed like a woman did it, but he did it," she joked. "And she was always clean."

Loran shared her own memories of her dad's efforts to keep her well groomed.

"He used to cut my bangs," she said with a laugh. "They were crooked."

For Tripp, now 57, raising a daughter in an era without public family restrooms was no big deal. The idea of handing her off to a nanny or sister never entered his mind.

When the subject comes up today, he just shrugs and smiles.

"That's what I was supposed to do."

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When Loran was in first grade, Doug and Holly got married. Even though Loran enjoyed a good relationship with her stepmother, and later with two half-brothers, Zack and Jake, she and her father remained close.

"I've always been a daddy's girl," said Loran, who works for Tripp Trademark Homes, her father's business, which has been on several Best Places to Work lists since Tripp founded it in 2000.

She credits her success to the encouragement he offered and work ethic he instilled during her formative years.

Whenever Loran had to choose classes or career paths, Tripp helped her weigh the pros and cons and come to her own decision.

"He never shut down any of my ideas," she said. He would just ask me questions to make me think about it more. He always made me feel like the boundaries were endless."

Chores were also part of the Tripp household. Loran had to make her bed each day. Arguments that bedmaking was pointless didn't work.

Judging others was, and still is, frowned upon.

"He always gets mad to this day at me if I ever say anything bad about someone," she said.

When Loran was 15, she told Doug she wanted to live with her mother in California. Doug didn't object. Eighteen months later, Doug got a Father's Day surprise as he was leaving the gym.

It was Loran. She had come home. For good.

"I haven't talked about this in years," Tripp said recently, reaching for a handkerchief.

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Today, father and daughter remain close.

Loran is 26 and learning the ropes at Tripp Trademark Homes, her father's successful business that started in a mobile home.

Industry insiders refer to the 24 staffers as "the Trippsters."

In addition to Loran, the payroll includes Doug's brother, Mike, and Mike's son, Joe. Holly and her mother, Gail Alexander, decorate all the model homes.

Those who aren't relatives are described as being "adopted" into the Tripp family.

They go on annual retreats and bring along spouses or guests. Destinations have included a Colorado dude ranch and a cruise to Cozumel.

Despite its small size, the company offers health insurance and retirement benefits.

"He does those things to keep a well-satisfied, well-tuned, team together," said Joseph Narkiewicz, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association and a longtime friend of Tripp's. He said Tripp wisely recognizes that a happier home life makes for a happier worker.

Loran got her first taste of working for her dad's company as a college student one summer. She did office chores as a way to repay him for sending her to study in Spain.

Doug, who was out of town for a long weekend, offered a challenge. He'd forgive Loran's debt if she sold a house by the time he returned. Sell two, and she'd earn a $1,000 bonus.

When Doug came back, it was time to pay up. He peeled off 10 crisp $100 bills and handed them to her one at a time.

Today, the two slap high- fives in the hallway of the Land O'Lakes headquarters to celebrate sold houses.

She doesn't get to slide just because she's the boss' daughter.

"She's earned everything," he said.

Loran works hard, both in and out of the office, he said. Sometimes too hard, just like her old man. It's a tendency they describe as "a Tripp thing."

"She's learning that it's okay to slow down," he said.

For the immediate future, Loran is happily single. But someday, she wants a husband and a family.

Failure to win her father's approval would be a deal breaker.

Her ideal mate would pal around with her dad. They would golf, ski and snowboard together.

"My dad will always be in my life," she said. "We will always be close. I can't imagine my life any other way."


Doug Tripp's family often laughs at his use of colloquialisms. "He's the only Southern redneck from Michigan," jokes his wife, Holly. Here are some of his favorites, which his kids dubbed "Doug-isms."

"The cows are out of the barn." (Translation: The word is out.)

"That dog don't hunt." (Translation: That's not going to work.)

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"God willing and the creek don't rise." (Translation: If all goes as planned.)

"That's why they make chocolate, vanilla and strawberry." (Response to customers' varied preferences.)

"Reading minds isn't something I do well." (You need to tell me what's on your mind.)


The Tripp file

Doug Tripp, a graduate of Michigan State University, has served on the board of directors of many community organizations, including the Pasco County Builders Association, the Builders Association of Greater Tampa, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Habitat for Humanity of Central Pasco, where he served as president.

Loran Tripp, a graduate of Florida State University, is a founding member of YES Pasco, a group for young executives affiliated with the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. She has interned for winemakers Ernest and Julio Gallo.