COLUMN: First time father of the bride: It helps if you’re a lawyer

Friday, May 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:21 a.m. CDT, Saturday, May 29, 2010

Editor’s Note: It’s nearly summer and with its arrival comes wedding season, when a new flock of brides and grooms head down the aisle hoping that love will conquer all. In five days, our commentator, Michael Jonathan Grinfeld, will perform the time-worn duties of a father of the bride for the first time. He’s going to share that experience in a series of columns, promising as much insight and humor as he can muster to help those Columbia residents who may be about to experience the same challenge. If you’ve got your own ideas and suggestions, he says he’d love to hear them. “They may not help, but they couldn’t hurt.”

The streets of New York City bustle with human throngs moving in all directions, especially on a sunny spring morning when blue patches peak from behind the skyscrapers that frame the heavens. A bit down the block from Lexington and 52nd, there is a lovely woman kissing a handsome man in the middle of the sidewalk while embracing him in a way both tender and passionate. As I slip by, I hear him whisper to her, “I love you,” and I think, how else should a man respond to a woman who is willing to kiss him like that right there in the open?

It’s a clichéd moment, I think. It’s springtime in New York City and love is in the air. For a moment, it’s as if I’ve transported onto the set of “Sex and the City,” its pinging theme song setting the pace as I saunter down the street. Instead, I am rushing to catch up with my wife, who’d gotten up earlier so she could make her appointment at Federico’s Hair Salon for a trial of the hairdo she’ll wear on Sunday when my daughter Julie gets married.

A wedding is about process as much as it is about passage. I don’t remember my own being that complicated or so fraught with perplexing problems requiring immediate solution, but then nearly 37 years have passed. The one my daughter is planning has so many moving parts I’m impressed she can keep them all straight. I wonder how this can be fun.

The salon is on the fifth floor in a building that requires tenants to buzz you in before you can enter. Federico himself is standing there to greet me as I come through the elevator door. I notice his perfectly coiffed dark hair first, and then the stylish white shirt. He shakes my hand, and his beautifully accented, European “good morning” fills me with the sense that I’m never going to ask how much this all will cost.

Agnes, the stylist who is actually doing the work, is from Poland, so her thick Eastern European-flavored chatter with my daughter, the-bride-to-be, who is supervising, sounds like a negotiation from the Cold War. They flutter around my wife’s head pinning this, teasing that. And then the hairdo is finished.

“So, Dad, what do you think?”

The question feels like a trap. All three women are looking at me, smiling, waiting. Even now, as I type this in the quiet of my hotel suite, I can’t bring myself to reveal the truth. I am grateful again for the one aspect of my legal training that has saved me over and over again, an uncanny ability to think on my feet.

“What’s important to me is whether Mom likes it,” I say, a delaying tactic while my brain searches for something less lame. And then it hits me. I pull back the brown smock my wife is wearing over her clothing, “you have to imagine her in her dress and with makeup, and when it’s all done she’ll look lovely.”

The women melt over this insight. Agnes is beaming so widely over this nuanced compliment that I fear her face will crack. But then, they all begin to talk at once about the things that need adjusting, and the work begins anew.

Being a father of the bride, I realize, is more about diplomacy than anything else. What counts is the ability to lend support and encouragement, without taking personally that no one will actually act on any of your suggestions. So, I’m beginning to relax, to believe that I can get by using the training I’d received years ago. Now, the theme song filling my head is the “doink, doink” from “Law and Order.”

Michael Jonathan Grinfeld is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and a co-director of MU’s Center for the Study of Conflict, Law and the Media. 

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