A loving father wrote a touching tribute to his daughter with Down syndrome on her wedding day, praising her for her achievements and wishing her a long and happy life with her husband-to-be.
While blushing bride Jillian was upstairs getting ready to say ‘I do’ to her love of 10 years, her father Paul Daugherty, 57, a sports columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, was writing the 25-year-old a beautiful letter in which he detailed how he used to cry over his fear that she wouldn’t be accepted by her peers – a fear, he added, that has gone unfounded.
‘In two hours, you will take the walk of a lifetime, a stroll made more memorable by what you’ve achieved to get to this day,’ he wrote in the letter published by The Mighty. ‘I don’t know what the odds are of a woman born with Down syndrome marrying the love of her life. I only know you’ve beaten them.’
Jillian, who works at the Northern Kentucky University athletic department married her longtime boyfriend Ryan Mavriplis on June 27 at an outdoor ceremony in front of 160 guests. But two hours before Paul gave her away, the doting dad was watching her get ready from the floor below, while committing his happy thoughts about the day to paper.
‘I am outside, beneath the window, staring up,’ he explained. ‘We live for moments such as these, when hopes and dreams intersect at a sweet spot in time. When everything we’ve always imagined arrives and assumes a perfect clarity. Bliss is possible. I know this now, standing beneath that window.
‘I have everything and nothing to tell you,’ the dad continued.
Paul, who wrote An Uncomplicated Life, a memoir about raising Jillian, explained that he never worried about her achieving academically because he knew he and his wife would make that happen, but he admitted that he once feared she would struggle to find friends.
‘What we couldn’t do was make other kids like you. Accept you, befriend you, stand with you in the vital social arena,’ he said. ‘We thought, “What’s a kid’s life, if it isn’t filled with sleepovers and birthday parties and dates to the prom?”‘
Paul recalled how he ‘cried deep inside’ when she was 12-years-old and told him that she didn’t have any friends.
But he went on to say that he shouldn’t have worried because she is a ‘natural when it comes to socializing’, noting that she was on the junior varsity dance team in high school and spent four years in college classes – continuously making friends along the way.
Paul also noted that Jillian has done everything that others told her she would never do – including get married.
Jillian met Ryan nearly eleven years ago on a soccer field. Ryan’s father coached a soccer league for youths with disabilities. It was after soccer practice that Ryan asked Jillian to a homecoming dance.
‘A decade ago, when a young man walked to our door wearing a suit and bearing a corsage made of cymbidium orchids said, “I’m here to take your daughter to the homecoming, sir,” every fear I ever had about your life being incomplete vanished,’ Paul recalled.
‘Now, you and Ryan are taking a different walk together. It’s a new challenge, but it’s no more daunting for you than anyone else,’ he added. ‘Given who you are, it might be less so. Happiness comes easily to you. As does your ability to make happiness for others.
‘I see you now. The prep work has been done, the door swings open. My little girl, all in white, crossing the threshold of yet another conquered dream,’ Paul continued. ‘I stand breathless and transfixed, utterly in the moment. “You look beautiful” is the best I can do.’
‘Jillian thanks me. “I’ll always be your little girl” is what she says then.’
‘“Yes, you will,” I manage. Time to go, I say. We have a walk to make.’
After Jillian and Ryan said ‘I do’, they headed to Hilton Head Island for a week long honeymoon. In case of an emergency, they were joined by their four parents, who stayed in a condo half a mile down the beach, so they could have their privacy.
‘Jillian and Ryan have lived together for nearly two years, so self-sufficiency isn’t an issue,’ Paul explained on his blog. All we had to do was set them up: Rent them an umbrella and two chairs, tell them about the hotel’s courtesy shuttle to local attractions, remind them that sunscreen use wasn’t optional.’
He added: ‘In most ways, they’re already like an old, married couple. In others, they’re delightfully not. Since their wedding day, Jillian and Ryan seem to have a renewed appreciation for what they mean to one another.’
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