They’re called daddy’s girls. Little ladies who fall madly in love with their fathers. Girls who grow up to become the women that measure the depth of a man’s character based on that first, irreplaceable love of her life. Often times though, a daughter never notices that she too was an angel sent to save a good man from himself.
It would be a challenge to sit down with J.J. Ulrich and not walk away with the divine sense that he is both guarded by and guarding angels. His 9 year old daughter, Maddie is a courageous spirit who has autism, suffers seizures on a daily basis, and has survived brain cancer. From the time of her birth J.J. raised her and through her medical struggles and the departure of her mother, he has nurtured a bright, beautiful and inquisitive young girl who’s heart can’t help but melt your own.
For J.J., the relentless, around the clock hours that he keeps has very little to do with business and everything to do with a paternal instinct that rivals the best of mother’s intuition. It is a regular occurrence that Maddie suffers a life-threatening seizure in the middle of the night.From down the hall, J.J. senses a seizure approaching, the way that some feel the presence of an intruder in their home. The threat of Maddie’s seizures are just as real, but flawlessly persistent. Yet somehow, through an unspoken bond and developed premonition, he reaches her in the knick of time, every time.
And while the challenges that surround them seem like they are enough to swamp anyone’s joy, these two are a playful pair. They both have a matching sparkle that looks like they each have the very best secret you’ll ever hear. I was also told they share a passion for Legos. As J.J. recalled to me, he ordered enough legos off Ebay (and to Sarah’s dismay) to fill an entire dresser drawer.
The afternoon I met Maddie, she shyly greeted me with a hello and a smile, peering behind her father’s back. Her eyes, like Jerry’s are soft and smart – and I could tell that there wasn’t a detail (or character flaw) that would to escape her. By the time lunch rolled around, she and I were discussing the merits of mac & cheese, the craft store down the street and by the end of the weekend, I was gifted with one of Maddie’s own yarn creations. Her spirit is magical. Her kindness and intuition, inherited. The connection between father and daughter is undeniable, from their features to their mannerisms. This is a bonded duo. As J.J. puts it “ Maddie is my greatest challenge and greatest reward.”