Gianopulos ‘reveres’ being called ‘dad’

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Barrington Hills Monday, 6/11/12 Skip Gianopulos and his wife, Gayle have four daughters. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media

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Jessica Gianopulos plopped down on the soft black couch, crooked her neck and rested her head on the left shoulder of the man next to her.

“Did you get a good report at school today, Jessica?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

“What do we do when you get a good report?” the man said, looking into the eyes of his second oldest girl.

“Shopping,” she said after a bit of prompting.

With wisps of brown hair peeking out from beneath a pink knitted beret, Jessica scooched over on the couch, threw her arms around the neck of a woman she just met, plunked back down in her spot, and then went off to play.

Her father, 46-year-old Harold “Skip” Gianopulos Jr., is many things – a husband to his 46-year-old wife, Gayle, of 19 years, a Barrington Hills trustee, and a leader at Willow Creek Church in Barrington, to name a few.

He’s also a financial manager for a mid-sized investment firm, and a founding board member and treasurer for Gigi’s Playhouse Inc., which now provides leadership for Down syndrome awareness center chapters in Hoffman Estates, McHenry, Chicago, Rockford, New York, Sioux City, Atlanta, Des Moines, the Quad Cities and the Fox Valley, with more in development.

His title of “dad,” though, is one Gianopulos reveres.

With two traditionally developing daughters, Allison and 11-year-old Stephanie, and two who have Down syndrome, Jessica and 5-year-old Cassidy, the Gianopuloses are busy.

As the proud dad put it, though, all parents face challenges.

“It does take patience, parenting a child with special needs,” he said, speaking in the sitting area at the front of the Hoffman Estates center. “But in a lot of ways, it is not all that different from typically developing kids.”

Gianopulos said that his initial reaction, like that of many parents whose children are born with Down syndrome, was one of surprise and concern.

Acceptance followed swiftly, and today, he cannot imagine his life without any of his daughters.

“We knew Cassidy was going to have Down syndrome,” he said, noting that the couple’s youngest was prenatally diagnosed. “A genetic counselor asked us whether we wanted to keep her.

“I said ‘We already have one daughter with Down syndrome who we couldn’t imagine life without,” he continued. “These are such loving kids.”

Each of the Gianopulos girls possesses characteristics that make dad smile.

Allison is “full of energy and life,” and “very loving and protective” of her sisters.

Stephanie is “a natural leader.” And Cassidy, while more reserved than Jessica, is an easygoing kindergartener-to-be once she warms to her environment.

Gianopulos and his wife, Gayle, were instrumental in starting Gigi’s Playhouse, but point to the Gianni family as the true catalysts. Gigi Gianni, for whom the nonprofit is named, is their daughter Jessica’s best friend.

Gayle Gianopulos said their daughters scored exceptionally well in the daddy department.

“How he handled that,” she said of Jessica’s diagnosis after she was born. “It was love right away.”

And Allison agreed that her dad was among those deserving of many hugs – on Father’s Day or any day.

“He always has time for us,” she said.