A father whose daughter with Down Syndrome recently married the love of her life has penned a heartwarming letter for the new bride reminding her of how proud he is of her determination and heart for others.
"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," Paul Daugherty, a sports columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer, writes in the letter, which was posted on the website The Mighty, to his daughter Jillian. "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."
Daugherty, who has also penned a memoir about raising his daughter, called "An Uncomplicated Life," reflects on the challenges of raising Jillian, wanting the best for her and trying not to be overprotective.
"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," Daugherty recalls. "I cried deep inside on the night when you were 12 and you came downstairs to declare, 'I don't have any friends.'"
He explains that he understands now he shouldn't have worried about his daughter: "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."
ABC News reports that Jillian, 26, married her friend of 10 years, Ryan, whom she met while playing on a soccer team for teenagers with disabilities.
"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," the letter continues.
"You're the nicest person I know," Daugherty writes. "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."
In an interview with ABC, Daugherty said the newlyweds' Saturday, June 27 wedding was something "out of a fairytale."
"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," he writes.
"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."
Daugherty told the news outlet that he plans on presenting Jillian with the letter in private, when the time is right.
"Everything that's in that letter I've already said to her before," he said. "The response has been exactly what I hoped it would be, parents pretty much saying, 'We've have the same worries you had and we are just overjoyed that this worked out for her.
"When you have a child with a disabilities, all you want to hear for the first few days is that everything's going to be OK. We didn't have that. We had people telling us all the things Jillian could not do and we threw that all of that in the trash."