Dad reflects on daughter's two weddings

Photo by Candace Owens of Brooke Mayo Photography

Guest Columnist

“I would like to say a few things about weddings. I’ve just been through one. Not my own. My daughter’s.” – Spencer Tracy, Father of the Bride (1950)

Delaney wedded twice in 2020, and here I am, six months later, still processing a double dose of "I do’s" involving my only daughter.

Perhaps it’s merely the age thing that I am having a hard time accepting. Not her age — she was 21, old enough to marry — but my age. When did I become a father old enough to have a daughter old enough to get married? Where did my time with her go? As a toddler, she used to reach up and demand, “Hold you me,” and though her trademark sentence defied the laws of grammar, she sounded so cute that I refused to correct her as I lifted her chin to my clavicle.

Yes, she married twice, but at least it was to the same man. Maxwell. Max to me.

Max and Delaney first married in June. It was a private, five-person ceremony at my parents’ home in Tell City. Mom, what with stage four colon cancer, was not well enough to commit to traveling to her granddaughter’s actual wedding which was destined to occur on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in August.

The first wedding wasn’t a legal one, but, to me, it was real enough. The bride-to-be wore her actual wedding dress, and the groom-to-be wore his actual wedding suit. Delaney detailed the Tell City wedding in a wonderful essay that appears in my latest book, “What Are You Going to Write About When I’m Gone,” which is a collection of stories about my mom: “ ... the idea of not getting to have my most favorite person with me on my wedding day was just too unbearable to think of. So, we brought the wedding day to her. It was one of the most meaningful and tender moments of my entire life. On the patio that I grew up on, the one where I played on, spent afternoons in the sun on, had birthdays on, I got to ‘marry’ my high school crush with my grandma and grandpa as the guests of honor. With ‘God Only Knows’ playing in the June air and my dad acting as the officiate, I couldn’t help but cry ... ”

Photo provided by Scott Saalman

What Delaney didn’t mention was how the acting officiant wept barely 10 words into the ceremony, creating an awkward pause until he regained control. Somehow, I blubbered my way through the script to finally pronounce the couple “man and wife” and watched as they sealed the deal with a kiss that lasted longer than necessary. Afterward, I took a photo as they kissed again while they stood directly behind my parents who sat on lawn chairs. Dad’s right hand held Mom’s left hand; Delaney’s right hand touched Mom’s back; and Max’s left hand touched Dad’s back. The photo is bittersweet. The four appear interconnected by a powerful surge of love flowing through them, yet Mom’s visible frailty brings a sense of melancholia to the scene. June was a hard month for her, though seeing her granddaughter wearing a wedding dress worked wonders for Mom in ways medicine never could.

August arrived in a father’s eyeblink. My daughter long had her heart set on a small, outdoor, North Carolina coastal wedding. With “God Only Knows” playing, I walked Delaney down the grassy aisle toward a hexagon arch decorated with roses, flowers and Outer Banks pampas grass. Her heels made her taller than me. I held her hand tightly, tighter even than when she was a toddler crossing a street, only this time it wasn’t for her safety but due to some primordial defiance of eventually having to let her go. Each of our deliberate, syncopated steps drew us closer to the Croatan Sound, which served as the wedding’s backdrop, and when we, much too quickly, reached the hexagon, the officiant nodded for me to let go, and as I did this, her hands quickly found safe harbor in Max’s awaiting, outstretched hands.

The officiant read sentences from “A Farewell To Arms,” supplied by Delaney: “At night, there was the feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal. We slept when we were tired and if we woke the other one woke too so one was not alone.” Did she choose my hero Hemingway’s words as a nod to me?

During the wedding, my daughter looked the happiest that I’d ever seen her, and this alone delivered to my misty eye the peak of her gorgeousness as the sun sunk behind the horizon and the lapping of the sound’s choppy water continued its soothing song. Paul Simon lyrics from “Hearts and Bones” seemed to summarize the moment: " ... two people were married, the act was outrageous, the bride was contagious, she burned like a bride ... ”

I must pause here to dab at the salty swell of fatherly remembrances before sharing a final North Carolina memory. On the evening before the wedding, Delaney and I stood alone in the dark beside the Croatan Sound.

“Will you still love me?” she asked.

“I’ll always love you,” I answered, then added, “Hold you me.”

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