Many fathers have penned heartwarming letters to their daughters on their wedding days, but few have reached eyes beyond their little girl’s.
Paul Daugherty made a rare exception when he shared his letter to his daughter Jillian on her wedding day with The Mighty, a news website dedicated to reporting about issues that affect people with disabilities, diseases and mental illnesses.
Jillian has Down syndrome. As her parents watched her grow, they heard people say that Jillian would never play sports or go to college or get married. On June 27, 2015, Paul’s little girl proved the doubters wrong when she married the love of her life, Ryan.
It is the afternoon of your wedding. June 27, 2015. 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. 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.
… When you were born and for years afterward, I didn’t worry for what you’d achieve academically. Your mom and I would make that happen. We’d wield the law like a cudgel if we had to. We could make teachers teach you, and we knew you’d earn the respect of your peers.
What we couldn’t do was make other kids like you. Accept you, befriend you, stand with you in the vital social arena. We thought, What’s a kid’s life, if it isn’t filled with sleepovers and birthday parties and dates to the prom?
I worried about you then. I cried deep inside on the night when you were 12 and you came downstairs to declare, “I don’t have any friends.’’
We all wish the same things for our children. Health, happiness and a keen ability to engage and enjoy the world are not only the province of typical kids. Their pursuit is every child’s birthright. I worried about your pursuit, Jillian.
I shouldn’t have. You’re a natural when it comes to socializing. They called you The Mayor in elementary school, for your ability to engage everyone. You danced on the junior varsity dance team in high school. You spent four years attending college classes and made lifelong impressions on everyone you met.
Do you remember all the stuff they said you’d never do, Jills? You wouldn’t ride a two-wheeler or play sports. You wouldn’t go to college. You certainly wouldn’t get married. Now… look at you.
… 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.
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. 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. 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.
CLICK LIKE IF YOU’RE PRO-LIFE!
“Yes, you will,’’ I manage. Time to go, I say. We have a walk to make.
The Today Show recently shared Paul’s touching letter to Jillian on its Facebook page, drawing attention from tens of thousands of people.
Paul Daugherty, who frequently writes about Down syndrome, does not mention abortion, but his writing shines light on the value of people with disabilities at a time when parents often face pressure to to kill disabled babies before they are born. The fear and uncertainty that comes with the news of an unborn baby’s disability, along with a lack of information, often lead parents to choose abortion.
The Daughertys’ story already is helping to allay some parents’ fears. As Jillian’s life demonstrates, people with Down syndrome and other disabilities have more opportunities and better chances of living long, fulfilling lives than ever before. Raising a child with a disability is challenging, and there still is a dearth of support for people with special needs. But Paul and Jillian’s story proves that there is hope for a better future – one that will value every human being and treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.