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Mom's Tribute to Stranger Who Entertained Daughter with Autism on Plane Goes Viral

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Eric Kunkel might not really be 3-year-old Kate’s real Daddy, but for 2½ glorious hours on an airplane he generously assumed the child’s name for him.

Her fellow passenger’s act of kindness greatly touched Shanell Mouland, Kate’s mom, who was dreading the Jan. 5 flight home to Canada (by way of Philadelphia) after a weeklong family trip to Orlando.

Kate, who has autism and trouble sitting for long periods, can protest loudly when feeling uncomfortable, yet it appears both Mouland and Kate hit the jackpot when Kunkel sat down next to the little girl.

For some reason, Kate felt an immediate connection to the New Jersey businessman, reaching out to him and calling him “Daddy.” Kunkel happily played along, putting aside his work and entertaining little Kate for the duration of the flight.

His gracious attention to Mouland’s younger daughter prompted a three-hanky tribute to him on her blog, Go Team Kate, that has since gone viral.

“You could have shifted uncomfortably in your seat. You could have ignored her. You could have given me that ‘smile’ that I despise because it means: ‘manage your child please.’ You did none of that. You engaged Kate in conversation and you asked her questions about her turtles,” Mouland wrote in the post titled “Dear ‘Daddy’ in Seat 16C Flight 1850 From Philly,” which was featured on the Huffington Post and has since received more than 360,000 Facebook “likes.”

Mouland addressed the blog entry to “Daddy,” since at the time she did not know Kunkel’s name. Yet that didn’t last long: The blog entry quickly went viral and reached Kunkel just one day after it was posted on Jan. 9.

Eric Kunkel
Kunkel, an IT executive with a child of his own, was humbled by Mouland’s gratitude.

“I would have never expected this to happen and I didn’t, so it’s a little overwhelming at times,” he told ABC News while at times attempting to contain his emotions. “It makes me feel good.”

It made Mouland feel really good as well, which is why she decided to share the experience.

“Sometimes the simplest things are such a big deal,” Mouland told ABC. “But it’s a big deal for him to treat her like a little person.”