I know that millions of fathers throughout history have walked their daughters down the aisle on their special day. I’ve personally watched dozens of dads do this over the years. Seemed pretty easy. I honestly never thought much about it. Perhaps it’s the curse of my guy-ness, but I haven’t spent much time in life thinking or dreaming about weddings.
So I wasn’t very well prepared for the emotions that I would encounter on her special day. We arrived at the venue several hours ahead of time. I had a few minor responsibilities, but mostly I was just hanging out. In many ways, it felt like an out-of-body experience, like I was attending someone else’s wedding. And then there would be moments when it would hit me like a ton of bricks.
The first time the emotion was overwhelming was when we were summoned for our “first look.” Faith and I walked down a hallway and around a corner, and there was Heather standing in her wedding dress. She was glowing, so beautiful, so calm and content. She looked like the happiest girl on earth. I was so happy for her. Taylor was there also, and we had a few moments, just the four of us.
Awhile later, Faith and I stood by ourselves watching through the window into the woods where Taylor, Heather and the entire bridal party were being photographed on a picturesque bridge. That’s our little girl, laughing and celebrating with her closest friends. I looked at Faith: “I think this is happening.” She squeezed my hand.
And then before long, it was time for the ceremony to begin. I saw the bridesmaids and groomsmen all lining up down the hallway and was about to take my seat so I wouldn’t miss anything. Oh wait, I have to get in line too. The whole thing was so ethereal. It was her day. My daughter is getting freaking married! And I was part of it. And so I took my place in line, Heather’s arm in mine, walking her toward the man that she had fallen in love with. The man who had captured her heart and won her affection. The man we had always hoped she’d meet.
There was a little bit of a jaunt to get from where we were waiting to the back of the room where the crowd was gathered. I was fine as we walked that distance, but as soon as we rounded the corner and began down the aisle—I lost it. I don’t mean I curled up in a ball and cried like a baby. But I lost all sense of internal composure. I felt this wave of emotion that descended on me as intense as I can ever remember.
I’m sure the aisle only took us about 30 seconds to get down, but time completely froze for me. No longer was this a wedding that I was attending. This was my little girl. It was with her I first learned how to change a diaper. She was the first one I helped tie shoes and ride a bike. She was the little girl I’d take out on breakfast dates to McDonalds before school and try desperately to get to talk, and just about the time we had to leave she’d open up and talk all the way to school. This was Heather who was so driven and full of ideas and dreams and never slowed down and always had questions about everything. This was her day. This was our day.
Somehow we reached the end of the aisle and with a four-word sentence (“her mother and I”), I gave her away to Taylor Snodgrass. That part was easy. He’s a man of integrity who loves Heather and makes her happy. And we’d been preparing for 23 years for this moment.
The ceremony was beautiful and short. As parents, we had a chance to pray with the newly married couple, and then almost as soon as it began, Heather and Taylor were announced as Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass. Then, the party began.
Sometime later the traditional “daddy/daughter dance” was announced. I’m not a dancer, and I didn’t practice ahead of time. Because I didn’t care. I knew this was a moment for Heather and me, and no one would be watching my dance moves. No one told me ahead of time what song would be playing, but she had chosen Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman. The first thing Heather said to me as the song began, “You know there are 100 girls out there right now watching us and crying.” She may have been right, but I didn’t notice. For however long the song lasted, we talked and laughed and shared stories. I told her how much I loved her and how beautiful she was, and then the song was over.
After a couple of hours of eating, dancing, partying and celebrating—the day came to an end. Friends and family lined the sidewalk with lit sparklers in hand, and Taylor and Heather left the wedding venue through the tunnel. They requested that we be at the end of the line, along with Taylor’s parents, and so we embraced one last time. And the happy couple continued on to begin their life together.
I know that parenting never ends, and that we will be a part of their lives for the rest of our lives. So I’m not confused by what that all means. But there was a real sense of completion in that moment. Like we started on a journey with Heather about 23 years ago, and through sickness and excitement and hard days and celebrations and hospital stays and tears and college bills and diapers—and so much more—this was the perfect way to close a chapter. She will always be a part of our family. But now she has her own family.
We did everything we could to prepare her for this moment, and although we made mistakes, we have no regrets.