When a child is born, their parent's greatest wish for them is to find happiness and to live a happy ad long life. When the child is born with an illness or disability, their hopes are quickly threatened. They often feel a mix of worry and guilt when thinking of all the extra challenges their child might face.
Paul Daugherty worried when his daughter was born with Down Syndrome, she would struggle. Would society accept her? Would she find love? What about success? These are all questions that ran through his mind. But, now on her wedding day, it seems that she turned out just fine. In fact, more than fine. On that very day, Paul was overwhelmed with emotion and decided to express it in a touching letter. The letter was originally submitted to The Mighty.
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The letter starts out by saying: "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."
Marriage between two people with Down syndrome may still have a stigma but it has been found to be lasting and even beneficial. Having such a close companion facilitates social learning and adaptation for the couple. It helps them explore their interests, stimulates language, and teaches them to share physical shores. It also increases opportunities for social activity and keeps them motivated to explore their environment.
Beauty Shining From Within
As his daughter was getting ready, her dad was in awe: "You are upstairs now, making final preparations with your mom and bridesmaids.
Your hair is coiled perfectly above your slender neck. Your bejeweled dress — 'my bling,' you called it — attracts every glimmer of late afternoon sunshine pouring through the window. Your makeup — that red lipstick! — somehow improves upon a beauty that has grown since the day you were born. Your smile is blooming and everlasting."
A Moment That Makes Anything Possible
The wedding day felt like a culmination of all this dad had ever wished for his daughter: "I am outside, beneath the window, staring up. 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." He wasn't sure what he wanted to relay exactly in this letter, so he let his emotions flow out through his pen.
Children with Down syndrome have delays in speech and motor skills and may need help with self-care, such as dressing and grooming. This makes it more challenging for them to integrate themselves into society and fit in with other kids their age. However, when his daughter was born, Paul didn't worry about these things:
"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?'"
A Parent's Wish For Their Children
Like other kids, Jills struggled to fit in with her peers and was aware that she was different. It's heartbreaking to think back on all the childhood struggles she overcame. Her dad writes: "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."
Beating All Odds
Jill always had the ability to overcome the odds stacked against her and to live a full and happy life, despite her diagnosis. All because of her goodwill, and motivation.
"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.
You're the nicest person I know. Someone who is able to live a life of empathy and sympathy and without agendas or guile, is someone we all want to know. It worked out for you, because of the person you are.
Love Makes Everything Possible
Even when it came to finding love, a concept that is natural but difficult, Jill made it look easy. She had a lot of love to give and loved deeply. "I would tell you to give your fiancé, Ryan, your whole heart, but that would be stating the obvious. I would tell you to be kind to him and gentle with him. But you do that already, with everyone you know. I would wish for you a lifetime of friendship and mutual respect, but you two have been together a decade already, so the respect and friendship already are apparent."
Paul remembers the very first time Jill's fiance introduced himself: "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."
A New Challenge
Marriage is only a new chapter in Jill life. Her life may still have challenges ahead but she is bound to overcome as she has proven by how far she has come so far: "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."
Time To Let Go
It's not easy for parents to let go of their children and release any fear or anxieties they have about their well-being. But Jill seemed to make it easier for her dad: "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.
You thank me. 'I'll always be your little girl' is what you say then.
'Yes, you will,' I manage.
'Time to go,' I say. We have a walk to make."
You can read the full letter at The Mighty. It was written by Paul Daugherty, a sports columnist at the Cincinnati Enquirer; Paul most recently wrote "An Uncomplicated Life," a memoir about parenting his 26-year-old daughter Jillian, born with Down syndrome. He hoped his memoir would bring hope.
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