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A Toast from the Father of the Bride (the Long Version)

by on July 02, 2014 6:00 AM

Sylvie, hyper-responsible oldest child that she is, has scripted her wedding to the minute:

5:30 Official champagne toast (given by Russell Frank), reception kicks off

5:32 Sylvie and Nick thank guests ...

My daughter knows me too well. Give me the mic and I'll go into filibuster mode, convinced that I am that rare speechifier who can orate at length without goading even his most heathenish audience members into praying for a power failure or a gully washer.

Since I can't possibly welcome, thank, reminisce, philosophize and blubber in two minutes, here is the unabridged version of what I would like to say as father of the bride this Saturday:

First I would invoke the grandfather of the bride, who died in April. Not wanting to dampen a happy occasion, I would quickly inform everyone that my dad was 96 – a clear case of a life to be celebrated rather than a death to be mourned. That said, I would probably choke up anyway.

I would say how much naches it would have given my father -- and my mother, who died three years ago – to be there. The term naches, I would explain, means "pleasure, satisfaction, delight; proud enjoyment," according to one Yiddish-English dictionary. One most often hears it as part of the phrase naches fun kinder – naches from children -- which perfectly describes how I'll be feeling.

That would be the intro, more or less. Then I would talk about Nick. When you tell people your daughter is getting married they always want to know what you think of the groom. So you develop a stock response. Mine is: I liked him the day I met him.

So did his future siblings-in-law. A sure sign of how immediately comfortable we all were with each other is that we were our usual silly selves around him and he was his usual silly self around us. I would describe him as smart, funny and sweet natured, which is exactly how I would describe my children – and my father. In other words, he fit right in.

I also saw a twinkle in Nick's eye, the same twinkle I have seen in Sylvie's eye from the time she was a baby, This would be my segue into talking about my darling daughter.

Here, I would return to that word naches, and my unease with the prideful part of its definition. When we say we are proud of our children, we give ourselves too much credit. So much of what our children get from us, from genetic traits to habits of the heart, is simply what we relay from our parents and grandparents. So much of what they learn from us comes from behaviors we are not even aware of rather than from lessons we consciously impart.

A better word for the experience of beholding the adult one's child has become is awe, the gardener's awe at watching the seed he planted push its way into the light of the day and then grow and blossom before his very eyes. The gardener plays a crucial role, especially at the outset, but then sunlight, water, nutrients and the mysterious "force that through the green fuse drives the flower," as Dylan Thomas put it, does the rest. I am awed by the delightful and accomplished person Sylvie has become.

This, I would predict, would be the second choked-up moment. How does a father talk about the exquisite pleasure of gazing upon his daughter in her wedding dress without melting away in a flood of memories and tears?

As that wedding itinerary suggests, Sylvie is the quintessential first-born. When she was 3 years old, we packed the car for a weekend of camping in Yosemite National Park. For the first 20 minutes of the drive, we heard not a peep from the back seat. We assumed she had nodded off. Then came her little voice: "Did you bring towels?"

The poor child, running through a mental checklist of items her scatterbrained parents might have forgotten!

About 13 years later, the same child decided to get drunk for the first time. She ate a meal designed to maximally absorb alcohol, had her friend hide her car keys, and then downed a precisely calibrated amount of Blue Maui Hawaiian Schnapps – a concoction that looks and tastes like windshield washing fluid. This was perhaps the most carefully planned carousal in drinking history.

But if Sylvie were strictly a no-nonsense type, she'd be insufferable, especially to nonsense types like me. Thankfully, she's also one of the funniest people I know, and one of the most loving. It's all there in that twinkle in her eye.

May it always be there.

May Nick always have the twinkle in his eye.

May the two of them always have a twinkle in their eye when they gaze upon each other.

Or words to that effect.

Now all I have to do is whittle it down to two minutes.

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A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled ÔÇťAmong the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," was published this fall by the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place in the Commentary-Non Daily category of the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter 2017 Spotlight contest. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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