There are two kinds of weddings: the kind where two families joyously unite to make a third, and the kind where the bride expects to be crowned. If you’re in the latter wedding, then God help you, especially if you aren’t Beautiful or don’t Look Perfect for Her Day. The Background:My husband was previously married and had three children by his first wife. They divorced nine years ago, six years before he and I met and started dating. All three children are grown and gone from the nest. He and I married two years ago. He is only 10 years younger than my father; I am only 10 years older than his oldest child, his only daughter. His daughter, the bride of this tale, is a very successful career woman in her late 30s, and the groom is also successful. They each make six figures, and she and her fiance chose to pay for it all and have the Big Wedding: Ceremony at the large cathedral in town, reception at a local historical landmark, black tie, live band, sit-down dinner, gift registries at a really high-end store and at a more economical store (to be kind to the rest of us, I suspect).
The bride’s parents, my husband and his ex, each decided to give the couple $1,000. I was carrying his check in an envelope in my clutch purse.
The invitations kept being re-sent back to the printers, to the point that the bride’s father and I, and my father and my aunt, only got verbal invitations, and the bride-to-be called us 10 days before to make sure we were coming.
You knew the bride was wanting to micro-manage and make sure everything Looked Perfect when she asked that her mother, her future mother-in-law, and her “step” wear floor-length gowns. No problem there, though pricey. She wanted the ladies of the bridal party to get their hair “done” in “up-do” styles, and have make-up done that morning at a salon of her choosing. Again, a tad pricey. Some months earlier the bride-to-be had asked her mother to get a face-lift for the ceremony. Her mother had put her foot down and said, “What you see is what you get.”
Now, the bride’s mother is a striking woman, attractive and Junoesque. Her father, my husband, is overweight, but he is well-groomed and looks good in a tuxedo. Her father is also a “practicing atheist”, but he was willing to walk down the aisle of a cathedral and sit through a High Mass for his daughter. “I would walk over coals for her,” were his exact words. His ex and I actually get along, so we had no problem sitting next to each other as the ceremony began, though she would be sitting between me and her ex, since she would be the last seated before the bride and her father walked down the aisle.
The gown was lovely, opulent without being gaudy, and totally suited to the bride’s frame, but something was off: The bride was not really on her father’s arm. It seemed she could barely suffer holding his hand as they walked down the aisle. She seemed very tense. The ceremony itself was telling: One of the readings was from Ecclesiastes, about how the man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, a shot across the bow to the mother-in-law, who dotes too much on her son. The second reading was from Matthew, I believe, about how man and wife should not divorce.
The daughter tolerates my presence because I did not have anything to do with her parents’ breaking up, but she never really forgave them for splitting in the first place, and this choice of reading only confirms my assessment. Her mother and I just shrugged and lightly shook our heads, and when then the Sign of Peace was called for, she and I shook hands then hugged, to the amusement of my husband. (Take that, Your Highness.)
The Dolorous Stroke:
But the reception was the last straw for the father of the bride. She had plenty of pictures taken with her bridesmaids and her spouse in the palatial gardens of the reception site, but two or three at most with her mother and father, and then she shooed him away with, “OK, dad, I don’t need you anymore.” I was not asked to be in any pictures, but I never expected to be, so I paid it no mind. We enjoyed the rest of the cocktail hour, as the food was wonderful and abundant.
Then we were ushered to the dinner hall. The groom’s parents and family were placed next to the bridal table, but the bride’s parents, some of her family and I were three tables away, barely in line of sight, but at least next to the dance floor.
Then the bride and groom came in and had their first dance, a rather formal and somewhat rigid pairing, but perhaps the gown’s flared skirt had something to do with that. Then the mother of the groom all but cut in on them and had her dance with her son as the band led into another song rather abruptly. The way she clung to the groom by contrast had me whispering to my husband, “When did she change her name to Jocasta?”
When that song ended, the emcee asked for everyone to come onto the dance floor. Everyone at our table froze. My poor husband turned pale and looked away. There had to be some mistake here. Surely someone would remember that the father of the bride should have a dance with the bride. But the band played on without let-up and the dance floor filled with the rest of the guests. I was in shock for my husband, and he leaned over to me and whispered, “I am two seconds away from going out and ordering Chinese.” *I* got up and weaved through the dancers to tap the bride on her shoulder to ask her to dance with her father, but the groom pulled her back before I could reach her
I turned and saw my husband quietly get up, skirt around the dance floor and leave the hall. By the time I got through the crowd to reach the door, he had left the building, my cell phone vibrated in my purse, and I had a calm voice message there telling me that he had left, but that he would come back to take everyone home. (He had driven five guests out to the reception; he would be back to take us home.) I went to the entrance of Stately Wayne Manor (my private name for the reception hall) in the hope of catching up to him, but he had already left.
I felt very bad for him, and wondered what to do next, but then the bride cornered me, asking me where her father had gone, because the groom’s parents had “taken over the reception.” (So much for her not needing her father anymore: Apparently the father of the groom had come up with some rather mortifying toasts that I was not present to hear.) I told her, “You would not dance with your father. How did you expect him to react?” She sputtered something about how it was the groom’s mother’s fault, that she wasn’t supposed to have done that, and to please-please-please don’t talk about this to anyone, as there were video cameras everywhere, and most of her husband’s and her co-workers were there. I told her that everyone at our table knew what happened, but that I’d keep my game face on from that point.
I also gave her the check in its little envelope, since I was not given instructions to do otherwise. I spent the rest of the evening walking around the grounds, talking to my aunt and my father, and I did my father the courtesy of a dance with him to “What a Wonderful World.”
My husband had driven home (almost 2 hours away), had changed into jeans, a nice cotton shirt and sneakers, and had driven back in time to take everyone home, but he did not go into the building to get us, dressed as he was, so I gathered our little troupe together to leave. I wished the couple luck before we left. The bride did not come out to speak to her father.
Two days later I received a voice mail from the bride, telling me how she was concerned for me, now that I had “seen what her father was like.” I’m afraid all poise left me then, and I left a voice mail to *her* reading her the Riot Act, about how I had nothing to worry about since I had not hurt her father deeply, adding that if the slight on the dance floor was an accident, it was her place to tell him so. Then I called her mother and told her I had lectured her daughter and that I would apologize to her for it, if needed, but not to her daughter. Her mother replied, “I understand completely. You had to put her in her place.”
Neither my husband nor I have heard from the couple since they returned from their honeymoon, and I doubt very much that we will. Her father may forgive her one day, sooner than she will forgive him, I expect, but I wonder whether can be so charitable. The money I’d spent on the dress I wore, the hair and makeup, and a gift I had privately sent her, hefty as the total was, is incidental to me. What hurts is the borderline depression her father has been in since then, and I ache in sympathy for him. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is an ungrateful child,” Shakespeare wrote in King Lear. 08-20-08