AND THE MEN WORE SKIRTS

I recently attended a same-sex wedding for the first time. Other than the fact that a number of the women wore suits and several of the men, being from Scotland, wore skirts, the event was indistinguishable from any other wedding. Food was plentiful, music loud, and loving sentiments wafted through the air like the fragrance of a thousand flowers.

That I was one of the fathers of one of the brides (how modern!) provided me with intimate knowledge of its planning, background and inner-workings. This was my first go-around as a wedding parent, but I believe the issues and anxieties leading up to the non-traditional wedding weekend were as traditional as they could be.

*****

My daughter, Kelly, announced her engagement to Laura at a family gathering in August, 2012. “Have you set a date?” was the natural question. The girls (I know they are “women” but please allow a father’s indulgence) seemed disinclined to respond.

“No rush,” Kelly replied. “In a couple of years.”

During the next few weeks, in the absence of a date, my wife, Katie, and I speculated on which iconic site would be the location of the wedding. Since the girls live in Brooklyn, off the top of our heads, we named the Botanical Garden, the Library, the Naval Yard and Prospect Park. Just across the river, in Manhattan, there were Central Park, the Battery, and Tavern on the Green, among hundreds.

In an early telephone conversation, Katie said: “We once attended a beautiful wedding at the Chelsea Piers.”

Kelly said decisively: “We’re not doing it in the city.”

Thinking she was eliminating only Manhattan, Katie plunged deeper: “You’re close to the Botanical Gardens, aren’t you? And I heard the Naval Yard has an amazing facility.”

“We want to marry at a farm,” said Laura on the other line, in her Scottish lilt, sounding non-negotiable.

“We will figure out which one,” added Kelly.

I’m sure we are not the first parents to encounter the “kids’” desire to choose the location of their own wedding with some degree of alarm. We accepted that the girls were entitled to their choice. Still, after a lifetime of dispensing guidance, Katie and I felt it’s our duty to point out issues Kelly and Laura might not have considered, such as: travel; accommodations; and, footing for older guests.

“And don’t second guess our choice,” added Kelly, as though she could see our dubious facial expressions over the phone. “We know what we’re doing.”

*****

The role of parents in wedding planning is a curious one. Society has provided some traditional guidelines, namely: the bride’s parents pay for the wedding; the groom’s parents pay for the rehearsal dinner, the bride wears a white dress; the bride’s mother, with her wisdom and experience, is assumed to have huge influence, etc. All this is unclear, however, when there are two brides and no groom, suits and no dress, and two thirty-somethings with resources and opinions of their own.

What’s a father to do? As a general matter, first, keep your mouth shut. Second, keep your mouth shut. Third, keep reminding yourself and your spouse, “It’s THEIR wedding.”

*****

Kelly holds masters’ degrees in education and library science and continues to hold down the midfield on several adult soccer teams.   Laura comes from Scotland. She holds a PhD in neuroscience, and an undergraduate degree from UCLA, where she was the star of the golf team. Neither, in other words, is a shrinking violet.

Throughout 2013, parental inquiries about wedding plans, whether posed by Laura’s parents in Scotland or by us in North Carolina, were parried away by the girls like weak shots against a World Cup goaltender. Still, Katie just couldn’t resist. She asked more than once: “How are the plans coming?”

“Fine,” Kelly would say.

“Have you decided on a venue?” Katie would ask.

“You’ll be among the first to know, Mom,” Kelly would answer.

One day in October, however, Kelly volunteered:   “We’ve chosen a date.”

Katie and I held our respective phones in wide-eyed suspense.

“July 26, 2014,” Kelly continued. We felt as though we’d received classified information from the CIA.

“That’s wonderful,” said Katie, happy to have information. “Can we tell everyone?” she asked.

“Yes, Mom,” said Kelly. It wasn’t easy, but Katie finally seemed to have the necessary tone and rhythm. Though it frustrated her mightily, she’d learned not to bring up the wedding unless Kelly did first. As always, I remained silent. After several additional months, refraining from asking questions paid off. In January, Kelly asked:

“Don’t you want to know about the farms we’ve visited?”

“Sure,” said Katie on the phone. She grinned from ear to ear, but strained to keep her tone of voice neutral. We learned from Kelly about a cross-section of New England’s barns, meadows and rustic inns, and listened to the girls’ impressions of each.

*****

Gradually, by spring, the girls shared the chosen farm’s website address. As a bonus, Kelly requested that Katie organize the gift bags. When the farm staff sent the guests a note that began: “The Bride and Groom ask you to mark the date…” the girls enlisted Katie to “go New Jersey” and add a parental voice to the brides’ howls of indignation.

The staff apologized and no similar fumbles occurred. The other pre-event issues in which we participated to some extent concerned the guest list, seating chart and wedding party participants. Again, Kelly and Laura handled nearly everything with minor consultations. A few deep breaths arose from parents and brides alike, but none proved insurmountable.

*****

Wedding weekend finally arrived and 125 guests arrived in Pittsfield, Vermont. For us, this involved flying from Raleigh to Burlington via Newark and driving ninety minutes south in a rental car. Upon arrival, we checked into a scenic inn perched atop a stone out-cropping, surrounded by wildflower gardens. I observed that the massive wooden beams and the stone foundation reminded me of the Flintstones.

“Don’t say that to Kelly,” said Katie.

“I know, I understand,” I said, though I wasn’t really sure I did.

The map included with the invitations implied that the various lodgings, barns and fields at the venue were all within walking distance. In fact, a system of golf carts and shuttle buses were necessary. One hotel that housed forty guests was four miles from the site. I think even the girls were surprised; when they’d visited the site in January, perhaps their perception was blinded by heavy snow.

A bus hired by Laura’s parents brought twenty guests from Scotland via Manhattan. They emerged at the inn looking groggy. Traffic was worse than anticipated. When I considered their itinerary, I could hardly complain about my own. All the Scots were wonderful people, but initial conversations concerned road repairs, airport delays and traffic.

Some confusion also reigned, at first, about where people were sleeping and how they would move from site to site. Quickly, however, the guests settled in, assisted by wine, beer and, no surprise, Scotch. The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, which featured fresh local fish and pasta, proceeded seamlessly in an elegant refurbished barn. The Scots blended with the Yanks, the young mixed with the not so young, and the gays mingled with the straights.

*****

Saturday morning’s schedule included a group hike up a mountain, a soccer match between Team Kelly and Team Laura, and casual lunch at an authentic Vermont general store. Afterwards, everyone relaxed, shared conversation, and prepared for the main event that afternoon.

The Scotsmen planned to dress in kilts, and the twelve women in the wedding party brought lavender dresses. For several who preferred to wear suits, there were lavender vests. Though offered the chance to wear a kilt, an experience that would have provided my family a lifetime of laughs, I wore a tuxedo with a bowtie in the pattern of Laura’s family tartan. All these details had been painstakingly labored over by the girls in advance.

*****

At the appointed hour, the guests assembled in chairs set in the middle of a sun-splashed expanse of grass. The wedding party excitedly lined up in an adjacent building in the order chosen by the girls. I tried to take a moment to ponder the momentousness of the event — the first of my children was getting married. But there was so much excitement and energy, it was difficult to focus!

At the signal, the wedding party emerged one-by-one about ten strides apart, led by a four-year-old flower girl, for a forty-yard walk to where the guests sat.  Following twelve bridesmaids and several ushers, I focused on maintaining an even pace and smile. So dazzled was I at the splendor of the setting and the day, my recollection is hazy. Behind me, Kelly walked with Katie and Laura walked with her father. The ceremony was officiated by Lo, a friend of both girls’. Though she described herself afterwards as “petrified,” her performance impressed everyone. She touched on important points about love and commitment and life. I’d be more specific, but the wash of emotions and thoughts crowded out my short-term memory at the time.

Immediately after Kelly crushed a glass with her foot to signify the end of the rare Humanist-Judeo-Scottish ceremony, the girls walked arm-in-arm as a married couple to the sound of a bagpipe and cheers. The guests reassembled under an adjacent tent for heavy hors d’oeuvres, including chicken sate’ and stuffed mushrooms, and drinks. Dinner, dancing and the wedding celebration followed in another reconstituted barn, just a hundred yards, or one golf cart ride away.

Besides an open bar that featured maple syrup mojitos, the festivities included an arcade-like photography booth, a seven-piece band, a choice of steak, fish and gnocchi, more dancing, fireworks, toasts and, finally, more dancing. In the end, the ecstatic brides ran through a gauntlet of handheld sparklers and everyone cheered. A large group of revelers retired to a nearby tavern to continue the party for much of the night. For story-writing purposes, I should have gone, too, but collapsed in bed instead.

*****

By Sunday morning, the wedding could only be declared a total success.  The weekend had been interesting, memorable and fun.

Following a final gut-busting brunch in yet another rustic banquet hall, while a too-late-to-ruin-anything rainstorm raged outside, the guests gathered their Vermont maple syrup souvenirs and wished each other, and the brides, all the best. As Frank Sinatra might have said, the girls had done it “their way.” Indeed, the girls had DONE it, it was great and, after two years and just a wee bit of anxiety, it’s now a wonderful memory.

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