My father didn’t walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, but he did help me up some very steep stairs. That’s not a metaphor for the next iteration of my life as a married lady: there were actual stairs, my high heels were ridiculous, and I didn’t want to fall over as I climbed to greet my very-soon-to-be husband on the stage where he was waiting for me.
I love that moment. I’d never envisioned being “given away” by my dad. I always loved the idea of walking solo, down the aisle, toward my future. But at the end of the “aisle” — a treacherous brick walkway — at our venue, was a set of precarious stairs. When I reached them, I put one foot on a step and reached with my left hand toward my dad, who helped me balance before taking my place in front of Patrick.
In both the figurative, and the most literal, sense, my dad helped me arrive on that stage, standing with the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I was legitimately nervous I might fall down, but I also wanted that moment of connection with my dad during the ceremony, as a nod to what he and my mom and our family mean to me.
My dad? He was just legitimately nervous.
“I don’t know much about weddings,” he said in his East Texas drawl, when I interviewed him this week. “I’m a lil’ bit uneasy about the unfamiliar.”
I had no idea he was nervous. My father does not show fear, not to a nest full of wasps in attack mode, not to a used car salesman, not to a snake wrapped around an outboard motor.
“Not knowin’ what the etiquette is of a wedding,” he said, meant he was worried he “might do somethin’ uncalled for or unconventional or … what’s the word? Inappropriate.”
I’m his one and only daughter, and gods willing, that was my one and only wedding. There was no getting it wrong this time, because there isn’t going to be a next time. I can’t imagine what my affable, good-natured dad could ever do that would be inappropriate, but as it turns out, weddings give just about everyone involved a lot to worry about.
I wish I’d talked to him about his feelings before the wedding. We aren’t really a feeling-share kind of family, but it never occurred to me that he might be as nervous and anxious and weirded out about the whole process as I was. But Patrick and I were planning a wedding I knew my dad wouldn’t choose for me, and I didn’t want to fight about traditions, non-traditions, churches and officiants and, well, the long list of other things people find to disagree about when it comes to weddings. So I stayed silent.
Even interviewing him now, over a year after the wedding, I was afraid he might have some grand revelation that would crush me, even unintentionally. I was worried, it turns out, about nothing.
“I had it more in mind of more traditional than what you did in terms of the church and all that stuff,” he told me, “but the ceremony was pretty similar in terms of its intent and its moment.”
“It wasn’t too far out of whack.”
And we laughed and laughed.
Because he’s right — even the most non-traditional weddings? Look like weddings. Sure, you can personalize your ceremony and your party, like Patrick and I did, with tiki accents and Bruce Springsteen songs and a carefully chosen officiant and a karaoke reception. But if, in a few hundred years, archaeologists found a video of our wedding and ran the tape on silent? They’d know exactly what it was.
In fact, my dad told me: “I probably had a better time than I would have had at a more traditional ceremony.”
Even though he’s a traditional guy, he loves and understands his non-traditional daughter. And even though I’m a non-traditional daughter, I love and understand my traditional dad. I’m not saying it’s been an easy ride; there have been some screaming matches over nose rings and tattoos and boyfriends over the years. But when it comes down to it, my dad and I are a lot alike, something we got to put on display during the reception, when we opted for a father-daughter karaoke performance of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” instead of a dance. Would he have rather had a dance, I asked?
“Most dads probably would have preferred that because they’re not show-offs like I am,” he laughed. He told me that the reception was his favorite part, but he’ll always remember Patrick and I reciting our vows, “sayin’ your words to one another.”
And then, in that moment before could get too misty eyed, he exclaimed: “Let’s do another one!”
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