Seeing your child grow up and get married is bittersweet, but embrace the changing seasons as part of being a parent. Being the father of the bride is an honour, a momentous occasion, a fresh opportunity to love.
Don’t worry, there will be another one coming out soon. It’s a generational theme. It is every father’s nightmare and every daughter’s dream. All things must pass, but it is still hard to let go!
Steve Martin’s speech in Father of the Bride really nails it:
“You have a little girl, an adorable little girl who looks up to you and adores you in a way you could never have imagined. I remember how her little hand used to fit inside mine, how she used to love to sit on my lap and lean her head against my chest. She said I was her hero. Then the day comes when she wants to get her ears pierced and wants you to drop her off a block before the movie theatre.
Next thing you know she’s wearing eye shadow and high heels. From that moment on you’re in a constant state of panic. You worry about her going out with the wrong kind of guys, the kind of guys who only want one thing, and you know exactly what that one thing is because it’s the same thing you wanted when you were their age.
Then she gets a little older and you quit worrying about her meeting the wrong guy, and you worry about her meeting the right guy. And that’s the biggest fear of all because then you lose her. And before you know it, you’re sitting all alone in a big empty house wearing rice on your tux wondering what happened to your life. It was just six months ago that it happened here. Just six months ago that the storm broke.”
Mike Frezon, the father of a young bride, tells how he felt in a beautiful story titled “Father of the Bride” in Guideposts Magazine.
“Why was I being so sentimental about my daughter getting married? I wondered. Kate was a mature, responsible young woman, a 21-year-old college graduate. But every time I looked at her after her engagement, I turned into a sap!
I saw the little girl who had always snuggled up next to me when I read ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ to her, the same kid who yelled, “Don’t let go!” when I taught her to ride a two-wheeler.
Now she and her mother were caught up in her endless wedding plans. They talked about canapés and flowers. And all I wished was to hear her say again, “Don’t let go.”
Instead, she gave me my own assignment for the festivities: “Dad, will you burn some CDs for the reception? You’re so good at picking music,” she said.
“Sure, sweetie,” I said. I had tons of music on my hard drive and on my shelves — good for background or dancing. But that caused another dilemma: What would I pick for that one moment when it would be just Kate and me — the dance for the bride and her father?
I stared at the shelves and scrolled down through long lists, then I closed my eyes. The right song, the perfect song, came to me. I could remember when we first heard it, sitting in a darkened movie theatre.
Kate thought she was too old and grown-up for Disney back then — a too-cool 13-year-old who wanted pictures of stars on her bedroom walls instead of cute puppy posters.
We were surprised that she’d even consider coming to the movies with us instead of hanging out with her friends. But Toy Story 2 was enough of a lure.
The girl in the movie, Emily, was also a teenager. She was getting rid of all of the toy horses on her dresser, replacing them with makeup and nail polish, covering her walls with rock-star posters. Boy, did that sound familiar!
But then a moment occurs. The cast-aside cowgirl doll sings “When She Loved Me,” and the tune hit me to the core. Something about that scene captured just how I was feeling — how any parent feels when a child grows up.
You want your child to move on and become independent — it’s only natural — and yet you still long for those moments when they say, “Don’t let go.”
I didn’t tell Kate what I had chosen for our dance together. I wasn’t even sure she had remembered anything about Toy Story 2.
Standing next to her in the back of the church before her nuptials, I was so proud! My little girl was absolutely beautiful, her long red curls cascading to her shoulders. God, I prayed, I hope she’s ready for this next big step. She slipped her arm through mine and I escorted her down the aisle.
Later, at the reception, I barely had a chance to talk to my daughter, there were so many people. The first moment we had together was when it was time for the dances. The bride and groom, their eyes locked on each other’s, danced that first dance to a big round of applause.
Then it was my turn. I stepped forward and the music began with the cowgirl’s song. Kate’s eyes glistened. She smiled big; I think to stop herself from crying.
“You know, Dad,” she whispered, “this song will always remind me of you.” I put my arm around her waist. She took my hand and rested her head on my chest.
In my mind I heard a little girl’s voice say, “Don’t let go!” No, I would never completely let go. Love, I’ve found, does not work that way. Love holds on.
I heard myself humming along with the words of the song: I will always love you. Then all too soon the dance was over. The wedding crowd gave us a standing ovation.
I gave my daughter a big hug, and then I let her go.”
I wrote about letting go and the heartache of the process a few years ago in an article called “The Grief of Fatherhood”. This is still my advice to any father suffering through their children’s growing pains.
For a father and a mother, every stage of parenthood is marked with a certain amount of grief. When the children are toddlers, we wish they were babies again. When they go to school, we grieve that they are no longer toddlers. When our children become teenagers, we wish that they were young and less rebellious.
When our children grow up and leave home, we wish they were teenagers again and still a little dependent on us. In a subtle way, all of this is a grieving process, but your daughter getting married really is a personal challenge.
My solution is simple: embrace the change and don’t run from it. To be a father is to plan joyfully for your obsolescence.
To navigate the different stages of grief a loving father will feel as he raises his children, he must do the following:
- Realise that we only have our children for a short time. Treasure that time and treasure the stages because they will not return.
- Plan for growth and work towards your children’s success. Be prepared for change and be prepared to stand in the shadows of their success.
- Actively welcome change. Support your children and your children’s mother through them. Parental grief can often (but not always) be greater for her.
- Realise also that a father will always be a father to his children, but in different ways as they mature.
Accept that to be a father is to plan for redundancy in the nicest sense of the word.
Remember to enjoy the journey along the way, because as the Polish proverb says,
“You have a lifetime to work, but children are only young once.”
Yours for embracing the change children bring,