First time father of the bride: The finale, and what I’ve learned

Saturday, May 29, 2010 | 10:27 a.m. CDT; updated 4:14 p.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 to the altar hoping that love will conquer all. This is commentator Michael Jonathan Grinfeld’s fourth and last dispatch as he prepares to walk his own daughter down the aisle on Sunday as a first time father of the bride. The first three commentaries are online if you want to start from the beginning.

 “Father” is a lot more than a title bestowed upon a man following the birth of his children. As it turned out, at least for me, fathering required a willingness to acclimate to a series of upending changes that compelled constant revision of the way I’d think about “life, the universe and everything,” as Douglas Adams would put it. My first time as a father of the bride, like all the other life experiences children bring, taught me a few things that I can now reflect upon as I prepare to strut down the aisle on Sunday, escorting my daughter Julie as she transforms into a wife.

 “Esquire” is a great magazine. In my most exquisite fantasies, I fit into its demographic perfectly. One of its departments is called “What I’ve Learned,” a series of “pithy aphorisms” from usually famous people that share their life’s wisdom. So, I hope the editors of the magazine won’t mind if I use a similar technique to reveal my insights into the father of the bride role:

There are certain things you’re not allowed to say as a father of the bride. The mother of the bride will give you a complete list of what they are.

Learning how to manage your frustration and anger is not any easy thing. During the planning stages that can last for more than a year, you’re often going to wonder how women can turn such a simple event into something so complicated and convoluted. Get over it.

The women involved with planning the wedding will have a great deal to talk about. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t call it “idle chatter.”

Money isn’t everything. Enough said.

There will be times when you’ll feel unappreciated and abused by the bride-to-be. But you need to keep telling yourself that you’re more important to her than you think. When kids take a father for granted, it’s often a sign of love and affection. They feel so secure in their relationship with you, they don’t even think they need to work at preserving it. And that’s actually comforting to me, too. Having said that, it wouldn’t hurt to be polite … damn it!

It’s no longer necessary to have the conversation about the wedding night and the special relationship that unfolds between a new wife and her husband, unless you could use a refresher course.

The mother of the bride needs constant encouragement and validation. Years ago, when my children were small, they asked me whether I thought Mom was pretty. I said, “Of course I think Mom is pretty, don’t you?” In near unison, they replied, “Well, she’s not very pretty, but she’s very practical.” We’ve teased Mom about this for years, but the truth is both of my daughters have benefited immensely from their mother’s pragmatic approach to problems. They sure didn’t get that kind of common sense from me. I met the mother of the bride when I was just 19 years old, and I’m the one who for 40 years reaped the pleasures of having a pretty wife, despite the times when I lost sight of how grateful I should be. So, thanks.

So, what kind of havoc is all this blending of families stuff going to wreak? It’s actually hard to tell at this point, but I’m already thinking that asking the question that way won’t help my attitude. So, the better question is, how will you enrich your life with the new members. My son-in-law, a phrase I’ve resisted using until this very point, will bring fresh perspectives and alter my relationship with my daughter in a profound but fascinating way.

The truth is, I stopped “parenting” a long time ago, when as grown women it didn’t seem my children needed one any more. But they still have use for a “father,” someone who can provide the wisdom that comes with age and experience, to help them ponder their own challenges. I’m happy to continue in this role as an oracle. And when the time comes to walk down that aisle, I’m going to take it all in stride, and just let the joy do its magic.

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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