How many parents can say they were there on their child’s first date? I can...…keep reading and I’ll tell you more.
Have you been watching Channel 4’s The Undateables? C4 describe it in the following way “people living with challenging conditions are often considered 'undateable' - this series meets a few and follows their attempts to find love”.
It’s an awful title for a TV programme, particularly as it is so inaccurate. I mean – they are often considered undateable by whom? If we’re honest we’re all undateable if the spotlight were to be put on particular aspects of our lives, our eating habits, bad language, fashion sense, rudeness and that we fart in bed when we think our partner’s asleep! However, we usually hide these aspects of our lives away while we are in the throes of courtship and bring the bad stuff out once we’re married! Anyone with me?
If you can manage to get past the title there are some great people on there - and I watch almost squirming, hoping against hope that it will all be positive but knowing somewhere there's likely to be a portrayal of disability that says "odd, different, weird" that many of us parents are working so hard to overcome. This week The Undateables featured the wonderful Kate (aged 29), looking for love and finding it with the help of a huge personality and a cunning plan to woo her man with some beautiful poetry she’d written herself especially for the occasion. What was so undateable about Kate I hear you ask? Well - Kate has Down’s syndrome! Er.. hello! – this is the 21st century, people with Down’s syndrome have equal status with anyone else, as do all people with disability or special needs. So, yes, they can have an expectation of love, happiness, marriage and a life of fulfillment. Kate is a beautiful young woman, with a home, a job, independence, personality, wit, charm, humour……and the need to love and to be loved. I have seen many young people on a night out staggering from one gutter to the next, vomit down their chests who are far far less dateable than Kate or anyone else on this programme.
It soon became apparent to their teachers that there was something in the air (and it wasn’t the chicken korma drifting through from the dining hall).
So let me tell you about my daughter Emily & her boyfriend Jono. Emily is 20 and has Down’s syndrome; Jono is one year older and also has Down’s syndrome. They met at school when Emily was 16. It soon became apparent to their teachers that there was something in the air (and it wasn’t the chicken korma drifting through from the dining hall). No, Emily and Jono had hit it off. Laughing together, wanting to be with one another, being in a better mood when the other was near. Sound familiar?
So the staff suggested to us that Emily & Jono might want to go on a date. A date? Wow that sounds scary. I’m ultra-protective Dad! There must be another way. But Emily decided that this would be a good idea and who are we to stand in Cupid’s way? How could it work though as both Emily & Jono need a carer when out in public so we contacted Jono’s parents (who we had never met) and fixed a date at a pub on neutral territory.
We approached the evening with trepidation. It could go so terribly wrong – what if we have absolutely nothing in common except a child with an extra chromosome? Well, we need not have feared. We arrived on time. Jono was already there looking as smart as you could wish - hair gelled, shirt, jacket and presented Emily with a kiss and a lovely bouquet of flowers. Parents are not supposed to be there to witness such things on first dates but this was just priceless. Some things you see and wish you hadn’t and others you don’t but wish you had. Well this was one of those moments you’re not supposed to see but are so glad you could say “I was there”.
Emily & Jono ate their meal and snuggled up, faces covered in the remains of a shared chocolate ice cream, chocolate fudge cake and chocolate sauce dessert.
We introduced ourselves to Jono’s parents and put the lovebirds on one table together while we sat down to eat a meal with Jono’s parents - complete strangers until two minutes ago and chat as though we had known each other for years. It was quite surreal. Emily & Jono ate their meal and snuggled up, faces covered in the remains of a shared chocolate ice cream, chocolate fudge cake and chocolate sauce dessert. A successful first date!
I asked Emily this evening if she could remember her first date with Jono and she told me the name of the pub and told me, "When Jono touched my heart it made me feel like a confident lady."
Suffice to say that over 4 years later Emily & Jono are still going strong. They have all the desires that any young couple would have – yes all the desires! They have it all planned out and regularly ask each other to marry – they expect to get engaged, get married, find a home and build a life together. They are very very dateable! And I challenge Channel 4 to film them and tell me they’re not!
And when they are married, no doubt the following words will be read, as they are in so many wedding ceremonies. And as they are I will shed a tear and thank God that he brought Emily into my life to show me what love really is – why don't you join me and say these words out loud, and think of your beautiful child as you do:
Love is patient and kind.It does not envy or boast and is not proud.
It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking or easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
My ongoing unwritten 20 year study into living with someone with Down's syndrome so far comes to the following conclusion - people with disabilities have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else, the same desires, the same needs, the same craving for independence, acceptance and understanding; the same expectations of life. And here's the thing, they deserve nothing less. So here’s to Kate, to Emily and Jono, to all our children who hope for love and to be loved – however far off it may be - may they find their hearts desire and may we allow them the freedom to do so.
|Emily with Jono on their first date|