On Being Both Mother and Father (of the bride)

As I mentioned to you in my last blog, we are having a wedding in the family this summer, which is a joyful event (especially since we love my daughter’s fiancé), and I’m busily planning the wedding with my daughter, and trying to attend to every detail. And I have to admit, there have been some very funny moments in doing so—-and also some immensely touching ones. Only one of my other daughters has married so far (the younger ones are still too young, by today’s standards, and even this bride is on the young side), and it’s been a while since I planned a wedding for my oldest daughter. And each bride and each wedding is different. And the thing to keep in mind is that it is her wedding, not mine. In years past, when I was young, parents commandeered the whole wedding, invited their friends, decided the style of the wedding, the food, the music, and you were lucky to have enough of your friends there to have a good time (and music that you didn’t have to be 80 years old to enjoy dancing to). Today, the bride and groom decide and run the show, which to be honest, seems right, much better, and much more fun for them (it IS their wedding!!). I had much more fun at my wedding when I married their father, than I did the first time, because we were grown up, had been previously married, and we had no parents to dictate the wedding, we ran the show. We invited our friends, chose the location and size and style of wedding we wanted, and we had a ball, and so did all our friends.

My oldest daughter wanted a big wedding, and we compromised on close to 300 guests. She had 14 bridesmaids, and it was a pretty major event. The daughter who is getting married now wants a small wedding, of under 100 people, no bridesmaids, she has very definite ideas, knows what she likes, has a clear vision of it, has been very reasonable and easy to work with, and the wedding will be very traditional, and very much her style. (And it’s no mean feat to keep the guest list under 100, when close to 40 of them will be family). And when my two oldest sons married, they had big weddings (my oldest son had 17 groomsmen), so this small wedding will have all the trappings, but will be a small gem.

And my role in all of this seems to be a dual one, and I switch from one hat to the other, a dozen times a day. And it even strikes me funny. Her father and I were divorced for a long time, but remained extremely close and got on very well, and I deferred to him on many things. And very sadly, he passed away 15 months ago, so now more than ever, I have the role of mother and father for this important family event.

It all began when my future son in law asked to visit me in February, while I went through New York, and asked for my blessing. He was intending to propose to my daughter (and did so 2 hours later, and I was very touched that he consulted me first). That in itself is a role normally assigned to the father and suddenly there I was, with this wonderful young man—–asking for my blessing. Knowing how much they love each other, it was a no-brainer, and I reacted as any mother would, gave him my blessing and asked for all the details (none of which he knew yet). (It never dawned on me to ask any fatherly questions. What do fathers say in those events?? I have no idea, and hope I did it right. This is new territory for me). My motherly role continued when he proposed to her that night, they called to tell me, and the next morning over breakfast, we began to talk about the wedding. I was totally swept up in the excitement of it (and still am). A few days later, she called to share her initial plans for the wedding, and suddenly I put on my father’s hat and gulped. (This is the moment when fathers begin to growl—usually to their wife—–about how much the wedding is going to cost, while the wife calms him down. Regrettably, I have no wife, or even husband or partner, to calm me down. So I’m on my own). For the next several weeks, garden themes were mentioned, destination weddings, locations that were hard to get to (there were no decent hotels near one location, and none with room service, and since one of my sons hyperventilates if he can’t get a decent meal at any hour, I knew that wasn’t going to work). Wedding planners were consulted (gulp), and let me tell you right now, whatever your line of work, we are both in the wrong business. If you ever want to make a fortune, in your next life you want to become either a wedding planner, or someone who rents tents for weddings. Ask anyone who has given a wedding, and they grow pale when they talk about the tent. We had tents over ‘bouncy castles’ when the kids were little, and in the back yard—-so what’s the big deal with a wedding tent? Don’t ask me, but clearly, they are made of spun gold with diamonds invisibly sewn into the seams. Crystal sides? Chandeliers? Air conditioning??? You can have anything you want, but don’t expect it to be anything reasonable in terms of cost. I have new respect for anyone who rents a wedding tent (without mortgaging their house).

For two weeks, I was in a constant schizophrenic blur between being thrilled about her plans and the sheer romance of it (I’m a woman after all), saying “Darling that’s sooooo wonderful”—–and only seconds later, jamming my father hat on my head, ready to shout “That’s going to cost me WHAT???????”  I was too weak from my own schizophrenic outbursts, and too enraptured by their romance to say much of anything, and before I regained my powers of speech, my daughter very sensibly decided that a location wedding would be too complicated and she wanted to get married at home. I knew it would be much more meaningful to all of us, and was thrilled with her decision, so for a brief time, I calmed down, dazed and relieved in both my motherly and fatherly roles. (How would I have done a location wedding, knowing no one and no suppliers in the area, commuting between Paris and California, with a very competent staff at my home base. Not to mention the room service issue for my son. I was not brave enough to explain to him that in one of his sister’s possible wedding locations, it was unlikely he would find a double cheeseburger nor a triple size steak available at the drop of a hat, delivered to his room piping hot at 3am). So all was well when she decided to get married at home. (Neither of us wanted to use the wedding planners, and it was all going to be much easier and prettier at home).

I wore my mother hat for all the wedding details, choosing the wedding dress with her in Paris (an unforgettable moment), and discussing everything she had in mind. It all sounded perfect and beautiful, and just as I was drifting dreamily through her plans, my other persona would take control, and the father in me would scream inelegantly in my head: “How MUCH is THAT????”  I’ve decided that it’s a lot more fun being a Mom, you get to give advice about the wedding shoes, and whether or not to wear a veil. Do I care about the cost of the caterer, overtime for the band, and how much a tent will cost after all (even at home)???? That is no fun at all.  For a brief moment, she wanted to transform our home into a Southern Plantation (Spanish Moss from WHERE??)…..roses from Ecuador…..lily of the valley from France…..and all the little details that warmed my motherly heart, and chilled my fatherly brain.  As it happens with fathers, it rippled down to the rest of the family as well, “You want to buy new sneakers AGAIN? Why? I bought you some 6 years ago”, “Why does the dog need to go to the vet now? Didn’t he just go?…..You need a new dress? For WHAT???   I found myself alternately sounding like a mother, AND a father, grousing over the most absurd details—–it reminded me of my childhood. If I didn’t eat my vegetables as a child, I was responsible for starving countless thousands of children in other parts of Europe (I could never understand why we didn’t just send them the lima beans and brussels sprouts I hated, if they wanted them so badly.  Now, suddenly, if I deprived my youngest daughter of new running shoes, or my son of basketball shorts——did this mean we could get a bigger, better tent, with heaters and more chandeliers in it??? I’m not sure how the equation works, but it didn’t make sense even to me.

In the end, my mother side is winning out (after all, I AM a girl). I want her to have exactly the wedding she is dreaming of, and I am trying to keep my father side in reasonable control. I’ve got him down now to the occasional low, subterranean growl. I may have to start talking to myself. (“It’s alright, dear, it will be fine….everything will work out….just have another drink”. Unfortunately, I don’t drink, but 30 years of therapy have finally come in handy. I am able to soothe my masculine side, and reason with myself that the wedding will be perfect, no matter how big the tent).

It’s a modern world out here, where sometimes mothers have to be mothers and fathers. You have to address the practical issues, and the romantic ones as well, but in the end, we manage to give our kids what they need, and we learn new skills along the way (I can now look seriously scary when asking someone how much they are going to charge me, which I was never able to do before. And it’s effective!!). Sadly, I can’t walk her down the aisle as her father would have, but one of her brothers will do that, and I’ll take care of the rest, perhaps not as efficiently as a father might, but I’m doing my best to wear both hats. And so far, so good. My ‘father side’ has not gotten out of control yet, or done anything really embarrassing. And I’m not talking to myself out loud yet!!! And hopefully, we will manage to create the wedding of her dreams. But I’m still going to look into becoming a ‘tent renter’ when this is over. Why didn’t they tell us about that as a career opportunity in college?  And if you want a good laugh, try watching the movie “Father of the Bride” with Steve Martin. It’s all in there, the wedding planner, his house being emptied and stripped for the wedding, AND Diane Keaton keeping him calm and offering him comfort. In the film that is my life, I am both Steve Martin and Diane Keaton……dealing with the notion of ‘losing my little girl’ to someone else, while giving her the wedding of her dreams, and being both Father and Mother of the bride, with all that double role entails. If I start speaking in tongues in future interviews, or snapping into a deep male voice, asking how much something costs——–you’ll know how it happened. I’ll have to remember to just be her mother at the wedding and not this hybrid!!!!!  It’s clear to me now, that being a mother is a lot more fun!!!

Love, Danielle

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2 Comments so far
  1. Mike Reid June 1, 2012 6:22 pm

    Hi Danielle- you don’t need a wife- maybe a partner(husband) but not a wife- we won’t go their today. Relax- take a deep breath -Don’t Rent That Tent- Keep Those Two Hats On & turn it over to God – Peace Be With You- Seeyasoon -Mike

  2. PJ June 11, 2012 8:38 am

    It’s touching that your daughter wants to get married in the house where she grew up.Sounds like it will be lovely.Enjoy!