41: My Daughter’s Wedding

41: My Daughter’s Wedding

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

My Daughter’s Wedding

To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter.

~Euripides

Less than forty-eight hours ago, I participated in my daughter’s marriage. I gave the bride away. Now a feeling of gloom hangs in the air, morose and inexpugnable. She was my firstborn, my only daughter, my little girl. I feel pride, and happiness, too. But the tears lurk inside, fighting to get out.

I thought that maybe if I wrote down what I was feeling, the purging logic of the words would ease my pain. Yet as I typed the words, tears began their trek down my cheeks, ending their journey on the keyboard below. Someone once told me that it was a bad thing to spill liquids on a computer keyboard. A bad thing? A bad thing was losing my little girl.

I alluded to the hurt I felt giving away my daughter during a toast made to the bride and groom at the reception. I spoke about all the fathers before me who had done the same thing. Yet, I told the gathering, it still pained me. I told them that my wife and I were proud to add her young husband to the family, and voiced all of the right things. But something I wanted to say, had planned to say, refused utterance.

All through the rehearsal, all through the wedding, and then at the reception, I compartmentalized this nagging, unexplainable grief. I knew that if I spoke those words, the thin membrane of this grief-compartment would explode like a water balloon. So a part of the toast to the bride and groom remained unsaid.

I had nothing against the groom. It seemed almost as if my daughter had chosen this young man to please her father. The groom, bright, caring and witty, even shared my knowledge and love of baseball, and anyone could recognize how much he loved my daughter. She is tender and tough, brilliant, and in many ways headstrong. This young husband would make a good match for her. I believed their union would be a good one, and that these two strong young people might weather any storm. I already considered the young husband a friend and believed our friendship would grow. Why then, I wondered, was I crying?

The tears first welled earlier on the wedding day when my daughter, stunning in her wedding dress, was having solitary pictures taken in the small campus chapel. The photographer placed her with her back to me, looking up at a stained-glass window as sunlight streamed through, creating brightly colored splotches of light that danced around her. The beauty of that single moment became more than I could bear. I walked out of the campus chapel with red, watery eyes. As I paced outside, the students walking to their classes seen through my eyes’ tear-blurred lenses resembled those bright splotches dancing inside the chapel. But I quickly regained my composure and returned before anyone noticed that I was gone.

Then I redoubled my efforts to force the tears back down, knowing that three times within the next few hours would prove difficult to bear: when I walked her down the aisle, made the toast to the bride and groom, and during the father-bride dance. But I survived all of them in good fashion, without tears. I began to feel that maybe all of this silliness was over. Yet on the long drive home, as I gazed at my sixteen-year-old son asleep beside me — the boy who had performed the duties of brother-of-the-bride and usher so well — my feeling of pride in my son turned to tears. Crying silently, careful not to wake him, I wondered what was so wrong in my life.

Once we arrived home, just ahead of my wife and mother-in-law who traveled separately, I retreated to the privacy of the master bath and reflected on this pain, not so different from what I struggled with at the death of my mother four years earlier. Why? For another twenty-four hours, grief continued to pop to the surface. Finally, desperate to break the cycle, I determined to put these thoughts on paper.

As I prepared to write the final paragraph, the realization dawned that these tears had very little to do with my daughter’s wedding, but everything to do with the simple fact that my children have grown up, a finality that I had refused to consider. I will never play horsey with them on my knees again, or carry them on my shoulders, or play All-Star wrestling on the carpet. I will never again read to them at bedtime or see their small-child wonder at Christmas. I recalled the words from the Joni Mitchell song that my daughter and I danced to on her wedding night, alone together for a brief moment:

“We’re all captive on a carousel of time.

“We can’t return.

“We can only look behind from where we came.”

I have done my job. My wife and I have provided our children with a firm foundation to be healthy, loving, caring adults. I feel better. And now I can say that part of the wedding toast I couldn’t muster before: “I may have given Rebecca away in marriage, but I will always keep the little girl in my heart.”

~Jack Kline

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