Dan Mac Alpine: Father of the bride
Being the father of the bride is a lot like being the king in chess: Everyone runs around pretending you’re important, but you’re really one of the weakest pieces on the board.
And so, despite what my eldest daughter, Sarah, dressed me in -- a black, rented Calvin Klein tux -- I had no illusions when she married this past weekend.
My job was to show up, shut up, smile and be on time, which I managed.
All weekend long, friends and family asked, “So, are you sad to give her away?”
“No,” I’d answer. “She’s marrying a great guy and she’s really happy. Why would I be sad? And it’s not as if I’m going to stop being her father.”
As the weekend wore on and the actual wedding ceremony approached and more people asked me the sad question, I began to feel like something was wrong with me. Like I should have tears streaming down my face or at least be dabbing my eyes with the white handkerchief in my tux breast pocket. But I couldn’t manage it. Besides, I knew if I even so much as touched the handkerchief, my daughter would be mortified: “Daaad! You don’t really use it!”
And every time I looked at my daughter’s smile and felt and saw her radiance, I couldn’t help but smile myself and feel happy for her joy.
Despite seeing her for two days and her looking spectacular for the rehearsal dinner, nothing prepared me for Sarah in her wedding dress.
I was waiting for her in the ballroom with a crystal chandelier hanging over the dance floor in the room’s center. The tables were all set around the floor for the reception. I was to escort Sarah out the side door, down a concrete path, over a narrow footbridge that spanned a brook, down a grass hill and into a garden where the ceremony would take place. I’m not saying it was a long way, but I half expected people with cups of water and Gatorade to be standing at the halfway mark, saying, “Hang in there. Just a little more. Good job!”
I’d scouted the course carefully for potential problems at the rehearsal the day before — a runner’s instinct. I figured I’d have to walk behind her on the bridge and make sure her veil and train didn’t get caught on the railing. I looked for any holes or uneven ground. Everything seemed OK.
I checked my watch, 4:15 p.m. The ceremony was to start at 4:30. Still no Sarah. For once in my life I was early. I checked my watch again, 4:16 p.m. I began to wonder if I was in the right place.
And then she walked in, a bustle of bridesmaids and groomsmen about her. I gasped and stepped back. I suppose every father believes his daughter to be the most beautiful creation in history on her wedding day. She’d lost her weekend-long glow. Sarah was now shinning and sparkling. Her veil hung off her honey hair, down her back and to the floor where it blended with her train. Her bodice had small, clear beads sewn in that caught the sunlight and twinkled here and there. Pleats mirrored her rib cage and flowed back in angled lines, each culminating in a sewn-on button in the back. The buttons ran down her spine. The rest of the dress flared from her hips to the floor and flowed out behind her.
My brain disconnected for a moment. Did I really help make this goddess? Surely not.
But there she was, calling me, “Dad.”
“You look like a perfectly cut diamond,” I told her.
She smiled and fanned her face with her hand and puffed her cheeks. I ran for a glass of water and grabbed a few extra napkins and stuffed them in my pants pocket in case she started to cry. She sipped the water.
Then it was time. We all lined up and the string duo began playing, their strains mingling with the breeze in the trees. The bridesmaids and groomsmen stepped off. Then it was our turn. An immediate problem. The train and veil were catching on the concrete and tugging the veil with each step. I stepped behind and lifted the dress and followed her over the bridge. Starting down the hill, she took my arm. She was walking too fast for the hill, the high heels and the whole train/veil thing.
“Half steps, Sarah. Half steps,” I said, feeling like a jockey trying to hold back a thoroughbred in the first furlong.
I held her hand in the crook of my arm, trying to slow her down. All I could think of was her catching a heel or a hem and spilling onto the grass, streaking her dress with green stains, her veil flying off into the wind. I could feel everyone’s eyes on us. I hoped my worry didn’t show. I tried to smile and seem relaxed. And then we were there. Ben was waiting for her. I handed Sarah off, safely.
And I stepped backward and to the side, the only moves that separate the king from the pawn.
Dan Mac Alpine is senior editor of the Ipswich Chronicle in Ipswich, Mass.