Thursday, June 14, 2007

Gold roses and champagne

I stand nervously in our lounge, fiddling with my wedding dress. The wedding car taking my mother and the bridesmaids to the church has gone, and I am left alone with my father.

The nature of my relationship with my father at this stage in my life is somewhat complicated. I love him dearly and know he loves me, but he can be unpredictable and his moods capricious. He also has a habit of delving deep into subjects I would rather keep private. I want to be happy in this moment I have with him, but I am terrified he will start quizzing me about things I'd prefer not to discuss, or give me sermons about how I should live my life. I realise now of course, that this was the way his natural concern for me manifested itself, but then I found it excruciating.

It is only when he has paced the room for the fourth time, that I realise that he is in fact more nervous then I am. We look at each other and laugh. I think we both feel better for that. In fact, he gives me no sermons whatsoever, and instead we practise walking down the aisle together. It is the start of a properly adult relationship with him. One which I later felt cheated that I hadn't had for longer.

I have chosen gold silk for my bridesmaids' dresses, and my bouquet is of gold roses. They're my favourite, my father tells me. And I'm glad it's the colour I've gone for.

We get to the church and have an hilarious few minutes taking the mickey out of the photographer. My father has a keen sense of the ridiculous and can't take the posed shots seriously. The result is some great photos of us laughing - there's one in particular I love. The photographer lines us up with the bridesmaids, turning back to the camera. Father has me in stitches, saying, which way should I look, do you think?, as he turns his head this way and that, in genuine mystification about what the photographer is after.

Eventually the photos are done and we enter the church ready to walk down the aisle together. The door of the church is open, but the priest isn't ready. Father and I look at each other. Neither of us knows quite what to do.

Perhaps we'd better shut the door, he whispers. Perhaps we'd better, I whisper back. It feels like we're in cahoots together. I don't know why.

The door shuts. We stand there dithering. By now, we are both fighting hysterical giggles. In the end, he says, well we'd better do something, and flings the door wide open again.

The church has a very short aisle, so we're down it in no time. Father hands me to Spouse who looks faintly green. I am so happy about my future life, I don't really think about how he must have been feeling. But quietly and without fuss, he has just discharged himself of his duty of care, and given me to the man who will I hope care for me to the end of our days. (Actually cherish - the word I choose instead of obey in my wedding vows is more appropriate.)

In my student days, I used to think, fiery feminist that I was, that the idea of being given away like an object by your father was somewhat degrading. I don't now. I think it is more of a silent contract between two men who love the same woman, to make sure she continues to be loved. My father, very typically felt his job was done, and told me from now on my first duty was always with Spouse. Duty is a bit of a dirty word these days, I think. It makes people uncomfortable. But I know what he means. I love my parents dearly, but Spouse is my future. And my father is incredibly generous about letting me go.

His speech is short and to the point. He simply wishes us well and toasts us with champagne. Knowing how eloquent he is and how, if he chose to, he could make a speech that no one else could match, I am touched that he takes this approach. I've been at weddings where the father gets incredibly sentimental and describes his little girl as a princess or some such other sugary term. This isn't my father's style at all. His way is to stand back and let us have our moment in the sun. And to do so without me feeling the slightest bit bad that I am leaving him behind. I am immensely grateful for that.

All day long he complains about wearing a penguin suit - at least we didn't make you wear a top hat I retort - and by the evening, and after plenty of champagne, he comes downstairs wearing the terrible ratty old jumper he loves best. We all laugh. From the maitre d' to the gardener in one fell swoop.

It is the best day of my life, and my father is there. He so easily might not have been.

Gold roses and champagne.

The most precious memory I have.


Dumdad said...

Gosh, Jane Henry, the golden prose is flowing out of you at a rapid rate! Great stuff.

Jane Henry said...

aw thanks again dd... I've never written about this stuff before, and now I've started I can't seem to stop...

And I have sooo much else to do!

granny p said...

J I've come to this via Zinnia this time and I'm very effected. My mother was ill and died when I was younger than most too, and it's so hard to write about, I only ever did fictionally. Yours is wonderfully written - which isn't the point maybe - but so it is.

Jane Henry said...

Granny P. Thanks so much. That means a lot coming from you!
I'm not sure that these were my words really. They seemed to come from somewhere else, if that makes sense (it probably doesn't). I like to think, from him.