By Billy Smith
My people reserve tears for beginnings and endings. The inseparable twins of sorrow and celebration leak around farmers, cowboys and oilfield hands like oil through an engine, but we don’t see much reason to shed salt any other times than on the occasion of babies and final goodbyes. Most other events get short shrift in the emotions category. The task at hand supersedes the temptation to pine over the pitfalls en route: “Gee, that looks like a nasty break, we probably need to go to the doctor after this hay is stacked.”
Oh but weddings, it seems, orbit on a more human plane for which I’m neither suited nor prepared. I’ll manage to do my part to accentuate the ornate marble appointments of the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Library where my daughter—the New York lawyer—plans to start something new. I won’t embarrass her. I’ll be dignified. Sharply dressed. Suitable for framing. My insides are different, though. I suspect my innards will become a roiling underworld.
With all due respect to my son and sons everywhere, daughters are different. They just are. No one has adequately explained the father-daughter entanglement and why dads feel a greater protector role when it comes to their daughters, but it’s deep and intractable. I don’t need clean answers to every one of life’s questions to accept them as fact. One of those facts is that children don’t always follow their parents’ lead. Another fact is this father-daughter phenomenon. That understood, it seems our children have taken hold of at least one of the Smith household truths: nothing—and especially not gender—can rob achievements of those willing to invest the time to prepare, work hard and unleash their imaginations. Still, I’m far more likely to punch the nose of someone who’s abusive to my daughter than someone who delivers the same treatment to my son. They’re both plenty capable of caring for their own needs, but, in the case of the New York lawyer, I’d probably still throw the punch.
The constitutional to the altar is not where my tongue gets tangled; it’s what follows that has me confounded. I’m tasked with a toast—that short collection of words intended to encapsulate the preceding ceremony and launch the couple into a bold future. It has to be short, compelling and memorable. Raw emotions are common and unwelcomed guests. Somehow, a toast is supposed to gather up all that father-daughter ethos into a neat, bow-tied box. Other than that, it’s easy, or so I’m told. So here goes:
“Before we raise our glasses, I hope you’ll indulge me. Danny (my future son-in-law and New York tax lawyer), I’ve known Lauren (said daughter and New York litigator) for a long time. But Danny, I’ve been thinking about you and praying for you since the day the pediatrician presented me with a bundle of screaming, curly blonde locks. I knew in that weak-kneed moment that someday a man would jostle his way to the front of the line to inform me that, ‘She’s it.’ I envisioned it being some place other than the drop-off lane of the DFW airport, but that’s another story—you get points for cleverness and cunning. A preplanned exit strategy confirmed the Eagle Scout title was well earned.
“Just moments ago you pledged your love and fidelity in the Browning Library. It’s impossible, I suspect, for the father of the bride to add much in the way of meaning to this day so I’ll let Ms. Browning do it for me.
“So, my daughter—in the words of Ms. Browning—you are to your mom and me ‘something between a dream and a miracle,’ and it is more true to me the older I get that he who ‘loves believes the impossible.’ I wish you a life not devoid of struggle, but full of kindness, love and, most importantly, courage. And I hope you love each other for the part of you that each brings out and that you love each other not only for what each of you have made of yourselves, but for what you are making of each other.
“I hope in the words of Ms. Browning that ‘with stammering lips and insufficient sound each of you strives and struggles to deliver right the music of your combined natures.’ So we lift our glasses and toast you both as something between a dream and a miracle.”
If I’m still conscious after all of that, I’ll drink a salty toast.