“Short Flash Fiction”
The Father of the Bride
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The Father of the Bride
by Ned Lips
The Father of the Bride
“My daughter is getting married tomorrow,” I mention to the total stranger on the train.
He nods, lowers his tablet and looks me right in the eyes. He’s older than me. “Son,” he says, “be prepared for the worst day of your life.” He smiles sadly, and as the train pulls into a station, he rises, pats me on the shoulder and leaves.
The magnitude of the event is just settling in. My sweet Mandy. Well, to me she’s sweet, but to those on the court, my five–foot, ten–inch power forward is known simply as “The Terror.” At 28 she still plays, usually with men, including her fiancé, and they all still call her that. There were days in middle school when my wife felt that way about her, but to me, she was and always will be my sweet baby girl. I flip to a series of pictures on my phone: tall, athletic, long flowing hair, and she glows so prettily. A tear slips out of the corner of my eye as the train slows. My stop. Tomorrow?
I can’t work but pretend to. People come by the office, congratulating me or making fun. My boss has lightened my load for the week. A man about the same age as the guy on the train, he seems to understand the trauma for the father of the bride when his only daughter is getting married. They’ve been living together for four years, and he’s a great guy for her. The world for all of us won’t change much, but tomorrow, I will have to walk my baby girl down that aisle and give her away. That’s the phrase that gets me: “give her away.”
Now in the olden days, the father of the bride was involved. He wrote the checks to approve and pay for everything. Not anymore. My wife Cheryl controls the bank accounts. Hell, she makes at least as much as I do. Maybe that’s for the best. What do I know about weddings? This is a girl thing. Both have been thinking about this for years, mostly with completely separate ideas about how it’s going to happen, which is where I’ve reluctantly come into the picture. The good thing is that Cheryl, unlike me, can say no to Mandy, at least initially.
There’s nothing that I hate more than telling my little girl she can’t have something in this last moment of fatherhood “because it is not in the budget.” So, here’s what happens. Mandy comes to me crying, “Mommy won’t buy the pretty pink somethings for the blah, blah, blah” (which is how I, and I think most fathers, hear wedding talk).
I just say, “There, there honey . . .” as Cheryl flies in, exasperated, hair flying all over. “Now Mandy, damn it, how many times have I told you not to go running to your father every time you want something that is not in my wedding plan?!” Cheryl seems to consider the wedding hers as much as it is Mandy’s. After all, Cheryl has planned this in her head for all of Mandy’s 28 years, probably longer. Mandy’s only begun to think about it in her last eight or nine years, if that. And after all, it’s Mom’s money paying for it.
So I say, “Cheryl, honey, how much money are we talking about here, the difference between a . . . sweetie, what is it that you wanted?”
Cheryl breaks in, “The pink somethings for the blah, blah, blah, and the wedding plan, which we all went over in detail, does not provide for pink somethings, and it will simply not go with blah blah, then we have to change the candles and—”
“But Mom, blah, blah, blah,” as Mandy gradually releases her hold on me to point to something in a big, thick, pastel-colored three–ring binder. As they negotiate the deal, I give Cheryl a look that indicates I approve of the additional expenditure, as if that matters, but somehow it does. Mandy lets go, and she and Cheryl wander back into the other room and plan away the evening. I shake my head, take a deep breath, settle back in my big soft chair, nip a Dorito and return to watching the game. Problem solved.
No boy is good enough for Mandy, but James is pretty close, and she loves him. I was happy when she dumped that stuck–up doctor’s son, although Cheryl liked him. Definitely not the guy with the Harley tattoos, or the football player who was dumber than a stick, or the class clown, or the . . . James may not be perfect, but he’s alright.
The thought that I am going to walk down the aisle and hand my sweet daughter over to James so he can now legally have sex with her, however, is tough. I know that the reason I got married was because Cheryl was the best sex I’d ever experienced. There were other reasons by the time we actually got married, but the great sex, I think, as with most guys, was the big reason. I can only hope that James has, over the last four years, learned that it takes a lot more than sex to make a marriage work. He’d better take good care of her and treat her nice and give her everything that she wants and deserves, or I’ll . . . whatever . . . I’ll do something about it. (The image of a .357 Magnum floats through my head.)
I’m at work because home is nuts. Cheryl is panicking. Mandy is stressed and has been staying with us to create some sort of illusion of the white dress. My cell rings.
“Frank?” It’s Cheryl.
“Hi, honey. How are things going?” She launches into a diatribe of her day. Long ago I learned that her goal is to download this information, NOT to have a conversation. I’ll need to let James know about this. Eventually she finishes with, “Are you coming home? The rehearsal is in two hours!”
“Sure, honey, on the way.” This is not the time to debate. I hang around for a bit longer, take a while to wander out, talk to a few people who congratulate me and finally get to my car. The objective, since I’m wearing the same clothes to the dinner, is to arrive just in time to pick the women up and head out, without being enlisted into something I have no desire to do or understand anything about, which does not need to be done, which is what they’ve been doing all day long.
The rehearsal goes well. The walk down the aisle is imagined. Lots of pointing and stuff. I’m there, but not really there. I talk a bit with James’ father, who laments that at dinner he has to tell a goofy joke that is apparently a tradition in his family. Nice guy. Dinner’s good. The joke goes well. Cheryl is stressed. I crash.
Fathers of the bride, like me, find the wedding day difficult. I want to be strong for Mandy as she frets about things with Cheryl. At the church as the music begins, I hold her to comfort her and reassure her, and she smiles. I tell one of my favorite stupid-dad jokes to break the tension, and it works. Mandy chuckles, “Oh Daddy,” and hugs me. Mom is beaming. The wedding coordinator is Cheryl’s sister Helen. Mandy and I stand anxiously in the church foyer, nervous together. I squeeze her hand as we wait for her music to start, watching Helen usher Cheryl and then the bridesmaids into the church.
The “Wedding March” starts, and Helen turns to us with a smile. The people all stand and look back toward the door. I pull up my chest and suck in my belly and take her small arm in mine. I want to be big and handsome and proud as we walk down the aisle. I want her to be proud to be with me at that moment, on our last long slow march together before I give her away.
The days in her childhood race through my head. The summers on the playground, swinging and singing. The romps in the sun and into the woods, searching for paths on a grand wild adventure. Building a snowman, and learning to ice skate, and helping her learn to play basketball and bumbling through soccer. The times she scored the winning basket, and the night she won first place with the science project we’d worked on together. The day she didn’t make the eighth-grade cheerleading squad and cried in my arms for what seemed like hours. Her high school graduation and leaving for college. The boyfriends, the breakups, the dances, the games, our whole life dances through my mind during that walk.
James stands there before us at the end of the aisle—the groom and his men, each with a big smile. Mandy looks so pretty and happy and scared and excited. She squeezes me close as we near the end. We stop, and the minister speaks, asking ME the question: “Who gives this woman away?” I say without pause, “Her mother and I.” That moment I’d dreaded had come, just like that. I’d said it . . . and I’d meant it. I turned one last time, gently kissed my little sweet girl, smiled a great big Daddy smile, placed her hand in James’ and held it for just a few moments longer. Then I stepped back behind her and over her train.
Tears that have been welling up roll down my cheeks as I sit beside Cheryl, feeling a little bit empty, a little bit sad, but deeply proud of and so very happy for Mandy. A rush of emotions, too many for a guy. Cheryl looks into my eyes, smiles deeply and warmly, scoots up against me and wipes a tear from my cheek without a word. We watch the proceedings. I watch as they kiss, and as she turns down the aisle, she smiles just at me. I smile a big Daddy smile and wink, and my Mandy grins that cute little–girl grin. And for just that one second, for the tiniest of times, I know she is still mine, and always will be, my baby, my girl, my little honey blossom, and I puff up my chest and suck in my tummy, and I rise as tall as I can in the crowd so that everyone can see how proud of my baby I am at that moment. I take Cheryl’s arm as she steps into the aisle, and we stride, arm in arm, heads held high, toward the door of the church like a grand king and queen.
The flood of emotions that occurs to a guy in this 45 minutes is simply unwieldy. More than I have ever gone through in my entire lifetime. Combined . . . including my own wedding! I’m wiped out right then and there. My nerves are shot, I’m sweating, and my breath is a little short. My heart is racing a mile a minute, and I can’t really think straight. But the problem is, it ain’t over.
I absolutely despise the receiving line. I have to stand there in a line, say stupid, pleasant things to people I don’t even know. Then pictures and the drive to the reception. We arrive well before the wedding party, which has detoured to the 7-Eleven for animal crackers to eat with the champagne the groomsmen brought along. They don’t arrive for another half hour.
I’m a great host of the reception. This is my biggest party ever. It’s at a nice hotel. I dance with Mandy and with Cheryl, and I hate to dance. I pour champagne even though the event is catered. I speak to just about everyone to make sure they’re having a good time, but mostly to not think about the fact that my little girl now has a different last name. That hadn’t dawned on me until the wedding singer announces, “Mandy and James Montgomery’s first dance!”
The emotions take a long time to wear off. I have to keep moving. As soon as I have an inkling that one of the women, for another guy would never bring it up, might say how sweet it was that I had tears in my eyes earlier, I’m out of there with, “Well, I’m off to make sure the chicken is done” . . . or whatever. It was hard enough to get through once; the last thing I need is to relive it.
Then James shakes my hand firmly and assures me everything will be perfect, and Mandy kisses me on the cheek and gives me a wonderful hug, and one of her greatest special smiles, and they both get into his car with cans tied behind and shaving cream all over it and drive off into the night. I stare after the car. Cheryl takes my hand and squeezes it but says nothing.
When it’s finally over and we’re back at home, I crash hard into bed. Cheryl sits at her makeup mirror staring and dreaming about how lovely everything was. I feel like I’ve just finished the Boston Marathon built into an obstacle course, but I can’t sleep. Cheryl climbs in bed and cuddles up next to me, nuzzling my ear. “I wonder what Mandy and James are doing right now?” While it pains me to even think about that, I realize that Cheryl is horny, and that is certainly a good thing. Despite my exhaustion, I roll over and take her in my arms and whisper, “I am sure it’s just like our wedding night, honey.” She smiles and kisses me. As we make love, I remember completely why I wanted so much to marry her way back when.