The following column comes from Paul Daugherty’s Monday Morning Line blog on Cincinnati.com from December 2013. You can read more from Doc’s blog here.
Jillian Daugherty is no longer available. Male hearts sank worldwide Friday, when the estimable Ryan Mavriplis slid a diamond on my daughter’s finger. She’s taken now, boys. Ease away slowly.
Ryan got down on one knee. At least he said he did. It was a private moment. He asked, “Will you?’’ She answered, “Yes.’’ They celebrated by making spaghetti and meatballs, then eating ice cream in bed while watching a movie.
The lovely couple had dated for nine years. They’ve shared an apartment since a year ago September. Ryan is literal, practical and book smart. He gets the Enquirer delivered. He knows more about the Bengals and Reds than I do. Jillian is street smart, social and engaged. They’re quite a team.
“I will always be good to your daughter, sir,’’ Ryan said Thursday, at a sports bar where he and I had convened. He’d called earlier in the day, requesting a meet. “I have something to ask you,’’ he’d said.
They’d met on a soccer field. He was a freshman at Sycamore High. Jillian was an 8th-grader. There would be a Homecoming dance, and a fine dress and a cymbidium orchid and a hug beneath a porch light to conclude the evening. I’d spent a lifetime wondering if my daughter would ever enjoy such a moment.
We can force teachers to teach our kids with disabilities. We can wield the law like a cudgel. We can do all we can to urge the world to accept our children as equals. What we can’t do is make people like them and respect them. Embrace them as good and equal citizens of the world.
My worst fears for Jillian did not involve education, independence or a career. They were if she’d ever know the smell of a man’s cologne.
I never dreamed, nine years since the first Homecoming, I’d be sitting in a bar with a guy asking me for my daughter’s hand.
“I’d like to marry your daughter, sir,’’ Ryan said.
Nine years we’ve known each other. Still calls me Sir.
“Can I get back to you?” I said.
No, I didn’t. I shook his hand, told him how immensely proud I was of him and her and suggested that if he didn’t treat Jillian like a queen, I would hunt him down.
“I know where you live,’’ I said.
“Yes, sir,’’ Ryan said.
The diamond belonged to Ryan’s maternal grandmother. The band was about the circumference of a dime. It fit Jillian like a fondest hope.
There are days in our lives we remember always, for the joy they hold. Days when everything you’ve hoped for and strived for and agonized over and wondered about and dreamed about and lived for become fairy-tale true. We live for those days. Last Friday, I’d never felt more alive.
It takes a village to raise a child with a disability. It really does. A cadre of caring people, from within and without. It was Jillian and Ryan’s day, yes. But it was Nancy Croskey’s day, too. And Dave Bezold’s. And Kevin Schappell’s and Tony Rack’s and Stretch Watson’s and Danny Boehmker’s. And Charlene Green’s and Linda Burke’s and Mary Smethurst’s and Missy Jones’, fine teachers all. It was a day for anyone who ever happened into Jillian’s life, and took the time to see my daughter, not simply look at her.
There is a fundamental difference, you know. Between looking and seeing, that is. Looking is passive. It requires nothing of your spirit, soul or conscience. Jillian is judged by people who look at her. Seeing is an active willingness to know the person within. It requires empathy and a passion for the eager human spirit. Those who have taken the time to see Jillian have not been disappointed with the view.
On Saturday, Jillian took her customary spot behind the NKU basketball bench, where she has been a manager for four years. She flashed her ring like a beauty queen showing off her smile. Happiness has never been more literal, physical or free of guile.
It’s a good time of year. The presents we bestow and receive are not best bought, but rather experienced. Our son came home from Brooklyn on the same night Ryan requested Jillian’s presence in the rest of his life. Kelly is 27. The erstwhile Kid Down The Hall is a man in full, happy, well adjusted and successful.
An amazing transformation occurs with fathers and their boys. I can’t tell you when, exactly, only that it does. Kelly will always be my son. He will always need my guidance, love and affirmation, same as I still need my dad’s, and he’s 81. But there is some unseen threshold Kelly and I have crossed, some magical line that divides needy adolescent from self sufficient adult. We are more like peers than father and son. We are united by blood and experience, obviously. But also, by an affection for bad cigars, rock-n-roll, adult sodas and Ernest Hemingway. I enjoy his company as much as anyone I’ve ever known. What a gift.
I see Christmas in the faces of my kids.