Fathers and Daughters
What does it mean for a father to give his daughter’s hand in marriage? I have pondered over that recently as that is exactly what I did this past Saturday, as our third daughter, Shannon was married to a fine young man, Daniel.
At the rehearsal for the wedding on Friday evening, our pastor, who would preside over the marriage ceremony gave me instructions, which went something like this – “lift, kiss, turn, and shake.” After escorting Shannon down the aisle to meet Daniel at the front of the church, I was to first lift her veil, then give her a kiss, turn to greet the groom and shake his hand, and finally join their two hands together. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, let me tell any of you fathers out there, as simple as it may seem, there is a whole lot of emotion that goes along with those simple gestures.
Even during the rehearsal, I could feel a lump welling up in my throat as it dawned on me what I was about to do the next day. I would be releasing my daughter into the care of another man for the rest of her life. This was the same little baby who I held so close as an infant twenty six years ago, the same blonde-haired little girl who I had taught to ride a bicycle, the same girl who I had coached in grade school basketball, and the same young lady I had helped move so many times back and forth to her college dorm room. While I would always be her daddy, I would no longer be the number one guy in her life. That place would now, rightfully so, belong to Daniel.
I was the one that taught her to bend her knees while shooting free throws in basketball, and I was the one who taught her to drive a car, rather hesitantly at first on quiet roadways at the local cemetery. As she gained her confidence, we graduated to the main roads and expressways. But from this point forward, Shannon would turn to her husband to discuss and meet head-on life’s most important moments. My role will diminish, while Daniel’s role will increase.
On the day of Shannon’s wedding, as the ceremony was about to begin, she and I stood alone in the back vestibule of the church. We watched as her sisters, the bridesmaids, were escorted down the aisle. She looked so radiant and beautiful! We looked at each other and said softly, “OK, together, we can do this.”
Many emotions flooded over me as we slowly walked down that long church aisle. There was the sense of awe of what was about to occur in just a few moments. With all this emotion just bubbling at the surface, I deliberately avoided looking at the crowd of faces which had turned to admire the beautiful bride. Instead I focused on the priest waiting for us at the altar, careful to just keep moving slowly forward to the point where Daniel would be waiting for us.
As we reached the front, it was time for me to do my part. When I lifted the veil covering Shannon’s face, for a brief moment I was stunned. I no longer was looking at the face of my little girl, but gazed into the eyes of a beautiful and radiant young woman. They say that all brides are beautiful on their wedding day, and I certainly believe that is true. But when you see your own daughter with that inner glow shining through her smile, your heart melts and you just want to bask in the joy and awe of the moment.
But that moment is fleeting. After gently kissing Shannon on the cheek, I then turned to Daniel and placed the two of their hands together, right where they belonged. While the moment was mixed with just a touch of sadness, the overriding feeling was of great joy. For I knew that I was putting her hand into the hand of a fine and honest man, a man whom I could trust to love and cherish her, to honor and respect her and treat her as she deserved to be treated. I discovered that it is much easier to let someone go when you know they are going to an even better place. In Shannon’s case, that place will now and forever more be by her husband’s side.
As I reflect on this I recall the words of John the Baptist “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3,30). It seems there is a natural cycle to all of life and this step, a father letting go of his daughter, is part of that cycle. My role in Shannon’s life would change, and while decrease in some sense, it is necessary for her to grow in her union with her husband, as his role increases throughout the course of their married life.