Every father who has the unique honor of escorting a daughter down the aisle for marriage understands the tangled web of emotions tugging at the heart strings. For some it is fear, others anxiety or concern and perhaps there is also relief or exuberance stirred into the mix. For some, handing the daughter off may be easier than the dreaded Father-of-the-Bride speech. Fathers all hope to deliver wit and wisdom but we are satisfied if our knees and hands don’t tremble too much and the sweat dripping from our brow won’t streak the words on the page, rendering them unrecognizable.
This is my fourth wedding speech. This is my last chance to get it right. I’m not sure if my previous Father-of-the-Bride speeches were delivered well and I apologize to my daughters if they lacked substance or if I failed to deliver in any way. This is for Billie’s wedding but this is equally for each of my daughters as desperately I love them unconditionally. We have lived through 4 daughters, 4 high school graduations, 4 college graduations, 40 boyfriends, $400,000 in college tuition payments and 4 million mood swings. The angst and uncertainty associated with each of those events pales in comparison to the preparation and execution of a modern wedding. You may feel “execution” to be an inappropriate word in this context. Believe me, it isn’t.
I initially thought about quoting Shakespeare; “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” But I decided Shakespeare didn’t seem quite right for this occasion.
Then I thought about quoting the bible, “A man shall his father and mother and be joined with his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” This applied to marriage but I read further; “There shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” I wanted this to be a happy occasion so I decided to skip the gnashing of teeth.
So, I considered Ben Franklin who said, “Fish and relatives all smell on the third day.” Which means, you should never move back in with your parents.
I am going to tell a story, a story of a little girl in a boat.
Somewhere around the age of 5 or 6 a little girl climbs into a small rowboat along the shore of a great river. She wants her daddy to but push the boat out from shore but hang tight to the rope so she can float on the water. She smiles and waves at daddy as he clings tight to the rope. The sun shines, the birds are singing and they are happy.
Around the age of 12 she begins to row the boat herself and pushes further from shore tugging on the rope. A boy happens by in his boat and she rows frantically because she has never felt this way before. But the boy moves on and her boat springs a leak. She cries out to her parents and they tug and pull until the boat is close to shore. Dad tries to fix the boat but she pushes away again because Dad wants to fix the leak but she just wants him to listen to her crying about the leaking boat.
Dad gets concerned because the current in the river is picking up. There are rocks ahead and a storm is gathering on the horizon. The boat is tossed about in the current crashing from rock to rock. Dad is frantically hanging onto the rope but it is being stretched and frayed and pulled from his hands.
Mom and dad are tired as they take turns gripping the rope. Their hands are blistered and swollen and raw. They ache from the constant battle but the boat hangs perilously close to a waterfall. Sometimes they think they can’t hang on any longer and sometimes dad gets a fleeting thought of helping the boat over the falls. The rope is stretched to the end and the parents tie a knot and hang on.
At times, the rushing current seems to calm even if only for a moment. The boat is bobbing in the water, almost out of sight. Sometimes they let loose of the rope and sometimes they hold tight but their eyes are always on the horizon.
Suddenly the parents hear a motor and in the distance they see another boat approaching. It’s a flat bottomed boat registered in Iowa. A young man comes alongside the little rowboat and they talk. The mist and the fog hung over the river and it’s difficult to see but dad watches to see his little girl stand up in the small rowboat and jump into the sleek and shiny flat bottom boat. Dad relaxes his grip and the rope slips out of his blistered and calloused hands, trailing off into the river.
The two of them starts upstream, fighting the same current, bumping into the same rocks, and the same storms but they do it together. As mom and dad retreat, they turn and look over the water once more. In the parting fog and mist, they see someone walking on the water beside the little flat bottomed boat. And they know it will be okay because when they hit those rocks and struggle in the current, and the storms toss and twist the boat, they won’t be alone.
The hardest thing about raising a little girl is not the scraped knees and tears. It isn’t birthday kisses and tiny hands holding crumpled flowers. It isn’t prom dates or dented fenders. The hardest thing about raising a little girl is letting go of the rope.
Today I let go of the rope.