COLUMN: First time father of the bride: What about the boy?

Friday, May 28, 2010 | 12:50 p.m. CDT; updated 10:22 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. On Sunday, 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 might 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.”

“How do you like the boy?”

The people who ask this question are mostly my peers, aging baby boomers who remember when we married, at least for the first time, at a younger age — kids just out of college. The year after graduation presented a hectic schedule of weddings to attend all over the country as we set up shop as young families ready to inhale the American dream. I was just 22 myself, a boy.

My daughter Julie and I go way back, some 30 years. I am the family member who remembers her the longest. (Her twin sister, Lisa, insists she has known her longer, when taking into consideration the time they spent together in the womb.) It won’t be easy for David, the man Julie will marry on Sunday, to insinuate himself into a relationship so cemented in time.

My memory of the theater in which the drama of Julie’s birth played out now unreels like a medical documentary on a cable channel. Two months premature, a surgical team for my wife, who lay there anesthetized and unconscious; two neonatal teams, one for each daughter, including a covey of doctors, respiratory technicians and specialized nurses; and a medical student for me, to drag me out of the room in case I passed out. I am the first man this hospital ever allowed to observe the cesarean section birth of his children. It’s another time my legal training came to my rescue, as I spent the day negotiating my way into the room.

For weeks afterward Julie lay there, tiny but courageous, fighting for each breath and every day of life, while hooked to an array of tubes and wires. I learned to play with her heart by slipping my hands through the sleeves of her incubator to stroke her tiny leg and watch the beats on the monitor slow down, only to speed up again when I stopped. That is the way I spoke to her in those early weeks, telling her that I was falling in love and that I wanted her to live.

And it’s only fitting, after all this time, for her to choose a new loyalty, one that will carry her into her own unknown future surrounded by whatever family she chooses to build. After all, her mother and I won’t last forever.

So, how do I like the boy?

David, the man, is already 35. The truth is, I’ve not had the chance to get to know him that well, to make the time to really acquire a visceral sense of his personality and inner thinking. He certainly has the external trappings — undergraduate and graduate degrees, a job, a reasonably handsome appearance and, most important, he seems to make my daughter happy.

For someone like me, a lawyer and a journalist who has endured a front-row seat to life’s struggles and tragedies, it’s difficult to just answer a simple question without over thinking the possible consequences of it. I often toil to avoid generalizing from the specific, so just because something happened in one situation doesn’t mean it will necessarily happen the same way for others, like my daughter and her new husband. Their future will play out like everyone else’s, in some unknown way governed in large part by the choices they will make.

So, the man is OK, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better, to give him the chance to wheedle his way into my heart. After all, love has an infinite potential, and there’s always room for one more.

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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