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Papa don't preach

Dads, try to look happy. It’s part of your fatherly duty.

This one particular scene in the musical Mamma Mia! struck me: one of the “fathers” asks the aunt, “What does the father of the bride do at his daughter’s wedding?” The aunt quickly replies, “He pays for it!” 

This tradition of the bride’s family footing wedding expenses is culture-bound. It is the practice in North America and Europe but not here in the Philippines, where tradition calls for the groom’s family to shoulder wedding expenses.  

But in postmodern times, when people marry at a later age, prioritizing the pursuit of stable careers, it has become more common for the marrying couple to foot the bill for the wedding themselves or for both sets of parents and the couple to divide the cost between them. 

Filipino fathers of the bride can breathe a sigh of relief now. Still, I can imagine how they must feel like zombies roaming the Twilight Zone in the frenzied months leading up to the wedding. It is most often the bride and her mother who take the reins throughout this period with the confused and sidelined father trailing in their wake, wielding checkbook and pen, signing away. 

You have the menopausal mother reliving her youth through her daughter’s big day, settling the score of her personal what-could-have-beens by ensuring that her daughter gets everything she missed out on at her own wedding. There is also the high-strung bride-to-be, clucking about like a headless chicken suffering from hormonal fallout because of self-imposed food deprivation and consequent sleep deprivation.

How painful and confusing it must be for the father: first, because he has to pay; second because he has — let’s face it — no say in the preparation; third, because he becomes invisible throughout all this.  He is left to fend for himself although he is welcome to join wedding planning sessions and meetings as long as he doesn’t make a peep, move, or even breathe. 

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If he happens to dislike the groom, then from where he was once meandering in the Twilight Zone, he is dropped down into a blazing inferno. This is the one crucial factor that will make a daughter’s wedding either celebratory or tragic for him. 

One may ask, how do things progress this far if the father or either parent disapproves of the child’s partner? The answer is, it is ultimately the child’s choice and there’s nothing much a disapproving parent can do about that.

There are endless horror stories of how disagreeing parents took their child’s choice of partner as an outright betrayal and proceeded to do everything in their power to stop the union. Some have turned out successful but the success rate is mostly dependent on how independent the child is of the parents, financially and emotionally.  Obviously, the financially emancipated ones forge ahead with their own lives; those still tied to their parents’ apron strings backpedal and lick their wounds privately in the sprawling mansions of their parental units.

I had a casual conversation about this with a counselor some years ago in which I expressed reservations about the then boyfriend of my daughter.  She dismissed my concerns with a smile and a wave of the hand saying, “So what if you don’t like the boyfriend? It’s not your relationship, not your journey.” She suggested I step back and kill the boyfriend with kindness instead, in order to allow my daughter to get to know him and for me to trust that she would, in the end, make the right choice. She added, “Trust that you raised her well and you have done all you could to make her a discerning adult. Distrust at this time points back at some failure of parenthood.” Ouch.

So, I did step back. It took every ounce of self-control to reign myself in from telling her what a poor choice I thought she was making. I bit my tongue and made nice. And guess what? In two months she broke up with him.

I commiserate with dads who are secretly hatching assassination plots against their future sons-in-law. But what to do when wedding plans are in full force? Grin and bear it? Yes. Throw in the towel?  Surely. They have zero control of their daughter’s choice of partner at this point.  Foot the wedding bill? No way, Jose. This is the one thing they still have control over.  

If a father has misgivings about his daughter’s husband-to-be, it is his right to withhold financial assistance for the wedding — this is about the only thing left within his control. But if his relationship with his daughter is of prime importance to him, he may want to reconsider this stand. I understand how utterly difficult it must be to pull out that wallet and shoulder expenses when, at the back of a father’s mind, he would rather pull out a revolver, eliminate the groom, and blow on the end of the barrel afterward. 

On a lighter note, here are the official duties of the father of the bride according to the website easyweddings.com.

 Paying for the wedding: In any capacity, full or partial, depending on the agreement with family members involved, the father has to offer to make some contribution. He must take a look at his finances, decide how much he is able and willing to pay toward the wedding fees and make his daughter aware of that.

 Walking your daughter down the aisle: In this role the father is literally giving his daughter away to her new husband and his family.  The main duty is to get her to the church on time and walk her down to where her groom is waiting.  He may take the opportunity to have a nice reassuring chat with her while they wait for their cue to march or he can simply give her a hug and tell her how much she means to him and how breathtaking she looks.

 Making a speech: The parents of the bride are the official hosts of the reception so it is customary for the father of the bride to make a short speech, thanking the guests and everyone who had helped with the wedding planning, and talking a little about his daughter and new son-in-law, then proposing a toast to the couple. Whether the speech is sincere and emotional or lighthearted and warm is up to the personality of the father of the bride. 

The father-daughter dance: If he is comfortable on the dance floor, the father-daughter dance can be one of the happiest moments of his life. If he has two left feet, he should take a few lessons for the sake of his daughter. But if he dreads even the thought of this then he may opt to cut midway between the first dance of the newly-married couple and take his daughter on a few turns across the dance floor.

Controlling the mother of the bride: This may just be his most difficult duty. A daughter getting married can have the strangest, most unsettling effects on the mother. There is bound to be a power struggle between the two women somewhere along the way, so he should think of himself as the peacemaker. He needs to be neutral, like Switzerland or NATO.  At the end of the day it is his daughter’s wedding and he might need to remind the mother of that from time to time—maybe every day.

Wedding counselor: You might think the father of the bride should be exempt from wedding planning duties but you couldn’t be more wrong. As an older, wiser man, he may be called on to deal with everything from pre-wedding nerves to supplier negotiations. He should offer to help when things get stressful for his daughter. He may be able to deal with wedding problems with less emotion than she can. He should let her know and feel he is there for her.

 Balancing relationships: With so many blended families in these postmodern times, keeping a balanced relationship between ex-spouses, stepfamilies and even the groom’s family can be a tricky thing for the father of the bride. Each side of the family must remember that ultimately the bride and groom are the reason for the event; so most people must be accommodating to their requests.

As father of the bride, he can help ease tension by setting a good example. If he is divorced from the bride’s mother, he should work hard to put aside any differences and come together for the sake of his daughter. If one or both of them are remarried, he should still co-host the wedding events with the bride’s mother. He should be sure to communicate with his daughter and let her know that he’ll be happy to do whatever she feels comfortable with.

If the bride is closer to her stepfather, she may wish for him to assume the duties of the father of the bride. If both men are equally present in her life, she may wish for joint duties.

 Best of luck, dads!

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 Thank you for letters.  You may reach me at cecilelilles@yahoo.com.

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