It isn’t hard to spot a father’s love for his child when looking at Joe Dill and his son, Joel.
Since Dill’s late wife, Gail, gave birth to Joel on April 8, 1975, both men have been inseparable.
When Joel’s not working at North Greenville University, just minutes down the road from Dill’s home that he shares with his son and wife, Dee Dee, the two are singing at church, attending Lion’s Club and Greenville County Council meetings, where Dill has been a member since the mid-90s, and enjoying their favorite treat: cake.
“He is a perfect son, and he’s just a blessing to be with every day,” Dill said stretched out on an office chair in his living room next to Joel, now 42, and Dee Dee.
Dill first became a dad at the age of 19, "a kid" he remarks with a grin, when his wife gave birth to a baby girl.
“It was just scary. It’s been a long time ago, and I can remember it well,” he said. “It was really, (an) unusual feeling. Like, I know, it was exciting, you know?”
Eleven years later, since the births of his two daughters, Dill was ecstatic when his wife had their first baby boy.
“Back then, they (fathers) were not allowed to go into the delivery room,” he said. “It was a totally different scenario of a dad today. All the fathers stayed in the waiting room, and you didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or girl.”
But he didn’t anticipate his third child with Gail, who died of breast cancer, would be one of the single greatest joys of his life, a feeling so strong the 72-year-old father is moved to tears.
“And the doctor delivered Joel down at Greer, said, ‘You, uh, you don’t need to see him, you don’t need to take him home.’”
Instead, the doctor said, Joel, who was born with Down syndrome, could be taken to a state-run home for children with disabilities.
“When he told us that I passed out. It’s still bad. It’s still a bad thought when you think about it, because he has been such a blessing.”
In the beginning, Dill said, it was scary, "really scary."
“And I’ve counseled a lot of people over the years who have had kids with disabilities and tried to help them be able to know the right things to do. The best thing to do is don't ever treat them as if they are different than any anybody else, because really Joel’s normal, there’s something wrong with me.”
It’s not hard to miss Joel at County Council meetings, or the bond he and his dad have built through the years.
Joel is always the first to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, he’s the go-to to sing “Happy Birthday” to fellow council members and he watches his dad’s hand like a hawk, ready to raise his alongside to vote.
Unless for schedule conflicts or when he was recovering from surgery, Joel rarely misses a meeting. During campaign seasons, Joel is the first to knock on a door and tell constituents who his dad is.
“I think a lot of people voted for Joel when I ran for school board and County Council. He’s really the county councilman. He just lets me vote," Dill said.
As a father and a councilman, having Joel around 24-7 has made Dill "softhearted," he said.
"Being with him and being loved by him, it's made me a better person. A lot more kind and loving," he said. “It’s helped me to be a better person. Not be mean and hard, and he’s taught me to be kind and loving and appreciate people.”
While Dill recalls some of the hard choices he's had to make on council, he always goes back to his son, his right-hand man who's been there to debate the hot topics with him in the car ride home.
Humble about himself, Dill brags continuously about Joel. Since the years of Joel playing in band at Greer High School, Dill has adjusted to life as a father with his own local celebrity.
At WalMart, Dill recalls watching a group of young women run up to Joel to give him a giant bear hug. He remembers the runs to Washington, D.C. to watch Joel play music every Christmas. He recalls when Larry Woods of CNN took Joel under his wing and the time Joel visited the White House and ate lunch with actress Pearl Bailey.
"Joey is such a personable little harm," Woods told The Greenville News for a Aug. 13, 1991, article. "He's kind of everybody's child."
Joel's also met former Gov. Nikki Haley, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and President Donald Trump when he campaigned in the Upstate during the 2016 South Carolina primary.
Dill's family has grown from three to 10 grandchildren and almost nine great-grandchildren, with the help of his wife's three boys from a previous marriage.
"(He's) been a dad twice. He’s got the experience as the way it was handled back then and the way it was handled today," Dee Dee said. "He’s the ultimate dad. Not many get the experience that broad of the spectrum.”
But it's been having Joel around, Dill said, that has made him that much better of a father and grandfather.
“I love my daddy,” Joel said.
“Thank you,” Dill replied. “He’s my best buddy.”
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