That’s when I begin to wonder where the bride is and I wander down the hall to the rector’s office. I knock and then enter to find my baby girl – our Jessica – all alone.
That she is the image of beauty doesn’t surprise me. Our daughters have always been beautiful to me (and to the world), but there is something more this November afternoon. The smile is a glow, the eyes are sparkling gems. This beautiful young woman can’t have been that little girl we caught on film drinking water from the bottom of the slide in our backyard a quarter century ago. But she is the same one, the little one. And she and Andrew are asking us to let her go, to let them now become a family, a young family with great dreams and great things before them.
But my little Jessica is all alone I can’t believe she’s not a quivering bundle of nerves … a teary-eyed little girl crying for her daddy to comfort her. Instead she smiles and makes it clear that the time for nerves is over and the time for pure joy is at hand.
Clutzy dad removes an errant strand of black thread from Jessica’s train and almost stands on her dress . She laughs it off. I notice a silence outside the office door and wonder if we are late … if everybody is waiting on us.
A quick peek find the final couple in the wedding party -- Jessica’s sister Hannah and Andrew’s best friend Chad – ready to step into the sanctuary and take up their posts as matron of honor and best man. I turn to my baby girl, give her a peck on the cheek and tell her we ought to be out there to get ready for that long walk down the aisle.
As we stand in the doorway, I look up the aisle and see everybody looking at us … really, at her. My wife Margie is beaming from her front-row spot. Our daughter Hannah, the matron of honor, looks almost giddy. Hannah’s husband Brian grins as well as he waits to help our rector, Jim Watson, officiate the ceremony.
As the church full of people stands and turns to watch the procession, the music begins and our stroll down memory lane is suddenly a march – a wedding march to the altar rail where my daughter’s loving fiancé awaits.
I’ve been down this road before and the results in that case were outstanding. Hannah and Brian have three beautiful children, a strong union and budding careers -- he as a preacher and she as a teacher. The evidence of their influence on Jessica over the past 10 years can perhaps be seen in their little family’s inclusion in Saturday’s grand event. Not only did Mom and Dad serve important roles, but the children as well from flower girl Audrey and ring bearer Parker to Trace, the oldest child who read one of the Bible passages his aunt and new uncle selected for the occasion.
Family is important to my girls and that is one of the most joyful measures I can think of as Margie and I reflect on how well we’ve done as parents. Jessica was thrilled every time she got an RSVP from one of her many aunts and uncles. She was tickled to learn that some of the cousins with whom she spent so many memorable holidays would be in town for her wedding.
Sometimes I used to wonder if my girls would resent that we spent so many vacation days visiting with relatives when they were young. Now I see them tear up when an aunt bids them goodbye after an all too brief visit and I know that our Christmas vacations at Grandma and Grandpa Litterski’s house were time well spent and that our summer trips back to Wisconsin for English family reunions were worth every mile and every “potty” stop along the way. We made a few special trips as well – including one to Disneyworld. But ask my girls and I think they will tell you that the most magical times were spent with our large, every-growing extended families.
A wedding can be a bittersweet affair for the parents, especially if it the “last” wedding. We’re done now, there are no more children in our little family of four to get married … at least not until our grandkids cross that threshold, as well. Sure, our baby officially left the nest five years ago when she moved into her apartment in another corner of Longview, but Saturday’s ceremony really makes it official. Margie and I are a family of two.
A sentimental Dad like me could get a touch of the blues with that thought, but frankly I have been so touched by my daughter’s joy in the past few months that there’s no way to feel sad. For more than a year, you could look in our baby’s eyes and see that she, like her sister, had found the love that every young person seeks. You could see it when she would talk about Andrew. You could see it when she would talk to Andrew, as well. It was obvious in the photo a friend shot of them at a Rangers game and it was never more obvious than when she looked him in the eyes at the altar and vowed to be his wife.
I’ve been known to be a weepy-eyed old guy. My wife has seen it, my girls have seen it, my co-workers even saw it the day I had to tell our vet that I agreed our dog Princess should suffer no more. Be it joy or sadness, my eyes can cry a river.
But on Saturday, I didn’t shed a tear until late in the evening after the happy couple had hit the road, the reception hall had been cleaned and the last of our relatives headed back to their hotel rooms for the evening. Even then, it was just a small tear.
You’ve probably all heard someone say, “I was so happy that I cried.” Once the house was quiet, I began to download my photos from the day. I paused at those of Jessica looking deep into Andrew’s eyes as they danced the first dance. I smiled at those of Margie beaming at me as Andrew’s iPod playlist rendered Chicago’s “Just You and Me” – the song we used in our own wedding ceremony. (It was a surprise I had forgotten to tell her about.) I was tickled to see my girls grinning and talking as they danced together for one song. And then I finally teared up as I cropped and enlarged a photo Hannah had taken of Jessica in my arms smiling at me as we danced the traditional dance of father and daughter.
I saw that picture and just that one lonesome tear ran down my cheek. I guess I was so happy for my little girl that I could not cry.