On the night before my sister got married, her future husband asked my dad if he would be giving her away at the altar. He said he would, but he planned to say, “Her mother and I do.”
And did Dad know his cue for that line? “Yes,” Dad said with a twinkle in his eye. “It comes right after: ‘Does anybody have just cause why these two people should not be joined in holy matrimony?’” Of course, he got the laugh.
As the father of two daughters myself, I’ve experienced “the giving” twice. Both times my wife and I borrowed my parents’ idea. When the presiding clergy asked, “Who gives this woman?” the two of us said in unison, “We do.”
Interesting, because when we got married in 1975, it being what our kids describe as “a hippie wedding,” nobody gave anybody away. Our wedding took place outside, during a picnic in front of a farmhouse; those presiding included my wife’s sister (in a sundress), my best man (in cutoff shorts) and a Unitarian chaplain to make it official. In fact, we borrowed from the 1855 wedding text of Americans Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, whose marriage document was considered a social protest.
“We believe that personal independence and equal human rights can never be forfeited,” it said, “and that marriage should be an equal and permanent partnership, and so recognized by law.”
Not surprisingly, I guess, both our daughters married slightly more traditionally. Our older daughter’s wedding took place in 2005, in bright August sunshine on the steps of a — believe it or not — mausoleum built in the 1930s by a former mayor of Toronto. The Foster Memorial looked like a mini-Taj Mahal. So, giving our daughter away at its imposing entrance gave the event an additional touch of class. Sensing my daughter’s desire for protocol, I offered a father-of-the-bride speech at the reception. Among my thanks, I pointed out that my giving permission for our daughter to marry, had also given permission for something else.
“Until today,” I told my new son-in-law, “I have insisted that you continue to call me ‘Ted.’ Now that you’re official, you can call me ‘Dad.’”
Three years later, our second daughter got married in a gazebo on the hillside grounds of a local museum following a mid-summer rainstorm. My wife and I walked her to the ceremony along a dirt path between a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse and a shed full of antique tractors, cultivators and other farm implements. As a complement to the museum setting, our daughter had a jazz trio in the gazebo to accompany her as she serenaded her husband-to-be with a jazz version of the 1937 movie tune, “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.”
While it was my wife and I who formally gave our daughter away that day, it was really her grandmother who deserved the honour. Earlier that year, before my mother turned 85, she fell and injured herself. By the time we got her to a hospital, her blood pressure had dropped, her internal organs were failing and it appeared as if she wouldn’t make it through the night. She fought back, but remained bed-ridden in hospital. We never expected she would make it to the wedding months later. However, she rallied and miraculously rose from her hospital bed and then sat quietly in the front row at the gazebo ceremony.
Quietly, that is, until the officiant asked the congregation to think a moment and call out a wish for the married couple.
“There will be times when you’re arguing or not happy, but never go to bed angry,” my mother said. “At the end, kiss and make up because life is too short.”
As far as I was concerned, that sealed the deal; her words formally marked the transition of the bride from granddaughter to spouse.
I guess the irony of giving away a daughter at her wedding is that it was only one of numerous dealings. I mean, the day we took each of the girls
to kindergarten we were giving them away to their lives in education. The
same, the first time they went away to summer camp or across the count-
ry to a national music festival. One year, our youngest daughter studied in Oslo, Norway; we had given her away to world travel. And they both went away to university; that was when we discovered the blessing and/or curse of empty-nest syndrome.
Still, no matter how far or for how long we gave them away, they always seemed to come back, like some Newtonian law of action and reaction. At different times – after they had graduated, explored a new career or lived on their own – each of our daughters returned home to live in our basement, do their laundry or enjoy a home-cooked meal.
Not that we ever minded. We’ve come to realize, even when they say, “I do” and we say, “We do,” that giving a daughter away is thankfully never a truly permanent transaction.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2010 issue with the headline, “Father of the Bride,” p. 70-71.