For most women, a poignant moment in their wedding is the traditional father-daughter dance.
Or so I hear.
I’ve also heard that there are in fact people out there who don’t live and breathe Guilt, who don’t lie awake at night running through a rosary of remembered Mea Culpas and who don’t wake up every morning ready to break fast on more. This notion is to me as far-fetched as Sasquatch or aliens or guardian angels.
I was horrified when the nuns first taught us about guardian angels, unseen creatures who watch us every minute of the day and night. “When I’m peeing?” thought I. “When I’m picking my nose or my toes in what I thought was privacy?” I found the whole idea repulsive, and still do: spies for a god who shouldn’t have to resort to espionage if he is indeed omnipresent. Is the ether full of winged busybodies hovering nosily around like reclusive old ladies peering at the neighbors through cracks in their curtains? Those invasive invisibles should all be consigned to the limbo of a Russian airport transit zone, with no shot at political asylum.
Then again, Benedict XVI did away with limbo in 2007.
Could he really do that, after 800 years of entrenched formal catechism? Does this mean his predecessors were only infallible ‘til death did them part?
Rachel Wolf of Auburn, CA, knew that death was soon to part her from her father. This is indeed a sad and tragic thing. Rachel, facing the inevitable, focused on the fact that she’d be cheated of the father-daughter dance at her wedding (let’s heap some guilt on the old man, shall we? He hasn’t had enough to think about, fighting a long losing battle with pancreatic cancer).
Now, Rachel has no Prince Charming on the horizon. No glass slipper to force her foot into, thereby forcing his hand. But she planned a night in white satin and propped her dying father up in a tuxedo and made a dance video (to her credit, she did not make him do the limbo). The song she chose was “Cinderella,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. The assembled crowd wiped away tears as father and daughter glided across the gazebo.
The gazebo, the tux, the limo, the gown, the veil, the make-up and hair, the catering, the DJ and the photography were all donated. The YouTube went instantly viral, as schmaltzy sentimental stories are wont to do, and Rachel and her donors became famous. She has received marriage proposals from around the globe. If I weren’t a good person, I’d suggest that all that careful event planning smacked of tacky tasteless self-absorbed self-centered self-aggrandizement.
It will shock you to learn that I am not a good person.
Why not make a video of your dying father that’s actually about your dying father rather than about you? Why not record him discussing the record of his long life and his lasting loves and his last lessons? Why not pay him private personal tribute with a meaningful interview? A chance for him to have his say, and speak to his descendants? A respectful retrospective of his days and times?
Now consider this, as if all that weren’t bad enough:
Some years from now, Rachel Wolf will most likely have come to peace with her father’s death. In the intervening months, she will have met the man of her dreams and planned her dream wedding. Once again, she will have arranged limos and dresses and hairdressers and gazebos and dance floors and DJs (she will have to pay for them this time, unless she can milk that first production for encore interest). At the reception, her cheerful guests will be happily celebrating. Is there anything happier than a wedding? Even the most cynical of us smiles and gleefully abuses the open bar.
Is this a mood-killer, or what? No amount of champagne is going to fix this party. People will edge toward the exits and escape as soon as is decently possible. The carriage will have turned back into a pumpkin. Others, into living vicarious grief, will declare the spectacle a piteous wonder, sobbing over the wonderful bride and her wonderfulness in providing such a wondrous experience for the dead man.
I don’t know that dead men have experiences. I think they are – well — dead. Until some pope decrees that death doesn’t exist, I’m betting that it does. Lots of dead people are with me on this one.
Rachel should surely choose La Dia de los Muertos for her wedding, a remarkably festive pre-Columbian holiday honoring the dancing dead. Sugar skulls are traditional gifts, with names of the dear departed inscribed on each gleaming white forehead. Wedding guest favors? Done! — and with Martha Stewart-esque flair: Daddy in frostinged calligraphy.
Why so vehement about this, you wonder? Why not cut the silly girl some slack? In the words of an English professor grading a rather acerbic critique I wrote years ago, “Your gratuitous contempt is unattractive, Missy.”
We harpies eventually abandon attempts to seem attractive; we’re a niche market at best. Gratuitous contempt, as my professor well knew, is generally a mask for personal insecurity. We scorn that which we secretly fear we are or might become. We sneer at sentimentality when we’re apt to fall prey to it. We wear colorful death masks at morbid Mexican festivals knowing we’ll one day be skulls ourselves – and not pretty candy ones.
I cheated my dad of a father-daughter wedding dance, you see, and have felt bad about it ever since (just one entry on the dance card of my life-long affair with Guilt). Husband and I went down to the courthouse one afternoon with a handful of friends and nary a relative, and married without flourish or fanfare (although there was plenty of champagne). I could try and fix this, I know, given Rachel’s example. I could dress up my dad and make him waltz about with a blowsy middle-aged matron trussed up in white like a sacrificial virgin. We could capture the moment in a still photograph to stick in my old shoebox with the fuzzy wedding snapshots my friends took on their Kodak Instamatic cameras. But neither guilt nor death will be cheated.