The role of father of the bride has taken many forms through history, evolving from a dictator who was solely interested in the financial ramifications of the union (dowries etc.) and whether it represented a hike up the social ladder (what happens if an Irish Catholic tries to marry into a Boston Brahmin family, for instance?). In the bygone days when royal weddings really meant something, they weren’t lovely affairs like that of Kate and Wills, but were tools to unite kingdoms, start wars and otherwise send shock waves through the socio-political world order. (What’s love got to do with it? Nothing.)
Then we progressed (?) into an age represented by Spencer Tracy’s character in Father of the Bride (not the Steve Martin re-make): the rock solid source of sage advice to keep the ladies from veering off into insanity. (Of course if Elizabeth Taylor is your daughter you’ve got a whole raft of trouble coming your way in the wedding department.) Oh yes, and the financial arrangements were still the paternal responsibility, writing checks to everyone in sight.
So what’s the dad’s place today, as we celebrate Father’s Day? As with other fractured cultural stereotypes I’ve seen this take many forms, from the “show up and shut up” role to a maniacal obsession with each detail down to the choice of the bride’s necklace (“Granny would be heart-broken it you don’t wear it!”) or whether the venue’s emergency exit lights are properly illuminated (I’m not making that one up.) I’ve witnessed every approach from complete invisibility until moments before marching his girl down the aisle to micro-managing the entire event as if it were the D-Day invasion.
The trouble is, your father is who he is (for better or worse). It’s not as though you’re going to change his personality or standard operating procedure just in time for your wedding. So my advice (unsolicited as always) is to figure out what roles suit him best (probably not singing) and aim his energy (or lack thereof) in that direction. If he’s a laid back guy who just wants to make you happy, thank your lucky stars, give him the schedule, and let him be the genial host. But if he’s the type who likes to control everything and everyone around him, it’s best to define specific roles for him and keep his nose out of the areas where it doesn’t belong (you should choose which necklace you’re going to wear). It’s rare, but I’ve seen fathers who have run the entire show, and the results haven’t been pretty. People who are used to having their way on everything have trouble remembering that nothing has ever been perfect, and your wedding won’t be either.
When a bride arrives to talk to me about wedding photography accompanied only by her father, one of two possibilities is almost certain. Most often this means dad is an advanced amateur photographer (knowing just enough to be dangerous) or (God help me) a professional who wants to grill me with a series of technical questions about cameras, lenses, software, megapixels, file formats, and high dynamic range images. (Bored yet? Yeah, me too.)
But the dads who set off the loudest alarm bells are the control freaks who will be making all the decisions about the wedding. One father introduced himself by saying “I’m O.C.D.”, which to him meant he had a license to be a jerk. And indeed he was, pissing off everyone from the caterer to the musicians to the venue manager.
But that’s an extreme case, and again very rare. More often fathers provide a calming influence, telling their daughters (and wives) that everyone looks lovely and the wedding will be a smashing success. As much as they genuinely care that everyone ends up happy, they know the day is really not about them. It’s about the women they love, and nothing in the world is more important. Even uniting with another kingdom.
Enough about those dads. How about yours?