Over the past few months, my son and daughter were married. Weddings are about the Bride and the Groom. It is the moment that they openly chose to declare their love for one another and state their commitment to a life of sharing in all of the challenges that lie ahead. At the same time, weddings are also a rite of passage where children move from the comfort of a home environment which is shared with their parents and family, to an environment in which they assume responsibility for their own decisions as a couple. Most will have children, and over that course of time, experience weddings as a parent. Here are some thoughts based on my own experience as the father of a bride and a groom.
First, in neither wedding did I feel excluded, but the role of the father is much different than that of the mother, particularly the mother of the bride. In part, this relates to the maternal bond between mother and child. But, it also relates to the process of the wedding which requires attention to detail and advice that most men either shy away from, or do not have the experience to provide. For example, the selection of a wedding dress requires practical considerations in relation to material, style, and fitting. How much help would I have been in this process? I think my daughter looks beautiful in anything she wears and I have no experience in fittings. As a father, you just want your daughter to be beautiful on her wedding day!
Second, as a father, I was of course invited to participate in decisions around guest lists, seating arrangements, selection of music, and menu. While I gladly contributed where I could, these are and should be, communal decisions that require the input of both families; particularly the bride and groom, who want to share their wedding day with their immediate and past friends.
There are only a few moments where the father has a unique opportunity to play a role as the father of the bride or groom.
The most obvious is walking your daughter to the wedding altar. That was perhaps one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. In the minute that it took to walk her down the aisle, my thoughts raced from one event in her life to another. For a few seconds, I was sad that my involvement in this phase of her life was about to end. But as we approached the altar and I saw the smile on the face of her awaiting husband, I felt a sense of comfort that is truly hard to explain. I recall thinking that while all brides are beautiful, on this particular day and time, my daughter was truly the most beautiful of all. It is a feeling I’m certain every father feels about his daughter on her wedding day.
The father and daughter dance provided me with a somewhat different perspective. I remember thinking how few times in my life that I had danced with my daughter. I also recall worrying about stumbling during the dance because I’m not a particularly good dancer. Perhaps, however, the most intense thought I focused on is what a wonderful woman my daughter has become. As I looked at her, I could see someone who is intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful and fun. In many ways she reminded me of how my wife looked on our wedding day and how lucky I am. I remember hoping that my daughter feels the same way when her children marry.
At both weddings, my wife and I had the opportunity to welcome new members to our family and to say something about our children. In reflection, it strikes me that fathers see sons and daughters differently, though they love them equally. I found that the memories that stood out about my son tended to focus on the physical; sports, summer camp, daring and risk taking adventures, and the typical boyhood challenges that a son experiences while growing up. My daughter, on the other hand, even though she may have had similar experiences as my son, I saw much more differently. She was the bright, hardworking student. She was the person driven by intellectual curiosity, self-confidence and compassion for those less fortunate. In many respects, she has always served as my social conscience, forcing me to rethink opinions that I may have had a harder edge than I should have. It is not that my son does not also have those qualities, in fact I find him very hard working, intelligent, and kind towards people. I think it is interesting that I perceive them so differently.
Finally, as a parent you wonder how successful you were in fostering family values, work ethic, a sense of compassion and fairness, and a desire to experience the diversity that life offers. You hope that you have done that well. The wedding day, it seems to me, is the culmination of all those efforts as your child takes on the mantle to share those values with their new partner and eventually instill them in their own children. Although I may have felt it previously, the recent wedding days really brought home what an onerous responsibility it is.
What is important to remember above all else, is that the wedding day is about the bride and groom. Our son and daughter have married wonderful partners. The wedding is a celebration shared between families, old friends, and new. Despite the wandering thoughts of a bemused and yet happy father, it is a celebration of vows between two people who love one another. And really, it is the beginning of a new phase in how you support your children through life.