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A father's irreplaceable love

I always cringed at the idea of a father "giving away" his daughter at her wedding. First, I never assumed the role of "property of Fred Widmer," and second, it sounds like such a black-and-white transfer from one man to the next, when there is clearly more gray area in the realm of relationships.

My father has always been the not-so-obvious rock in my life. After all, it was my mother who helped carry my burdens on a day-to-day basis, with my urgent phone calls and bursts through the door to tell of the current day's drama.

Dad seemed to hold out for the more monumental moments in my life, the ringer on the sidelines waiting for his call to action. The moments when my father stepped for me are unforgettable. Though I may have threatened hating him at the time, it was my father who pushed me academically, and forced me to rewrite my college application essays to ensure a proper higher education.

He had the courage to say no when I begged to attend unsupervised parties or other questionable adolescent happenings. He drove me to New York City despite his anxiety about whether his small-town daughter would be safe living in the big city. He sat by my side confidently as I talked a Honda salesman into selling me my first new car at manufacturer's price. He put aside his own grief to comfort me when his father passed away.

And he "gave me away" at my wedding last July.

It was tense. Minutes before I walked down the aisle, I yanked up my strapless gown for support, and the button at the top -- the one holding me into the monstrosity -- shot across the multipurpose room in the back of the church. My mother and bridesmaids quickly and quietly remedied the situation before leaving to enter the church -- sewing me snugly into my dress.

I was left alone with my father, who had little experience in a wardrobe malfunction of this magnitude. My anxiety rose. Hundreds of people would be staring at me, I might trip my dad, I might trip myself, I might pass out from the lack of air.

"You better not," my father stated with grave concern.

I hadn't realized I was speaking my thoughts aloud.

"If you go down, I'm going down with you," my dad said as he took a deep breath, eyes darting nervously around the vestibule.

"Daaaaad," I droned to the tune I have whined since a toddler. He smirked and offered his arm, half in chivalry, half in need of support.

This was perhaps the first time that I felt my dad needed me as much as I needed him.

Just then, the violins began "Canon in D." That was our cue. I put back my shoulders as I strode forward toward the aisle in determination. Surprised, I felt my dad tug back. Without having to say it, I believe he wanted to savor the moment.

Immediately, I realized I would have missed this truly special moment if my father had not held me back. This concept spiraled out of control in my brain as we approached the aisle. Snapshot memories of my dad and me played over in my head as I suspended the emotions somewhere between my heart and my throat. He looked at me, mustered a proud smile, and led us through the sea of family and friends.

Then, I caught my bridegroom's eyes, the way they do in the movies. I affixed mine on his, as his face clenched and tears of anticipation melted down toward his chin. Everything else blurred. My only focus then was to get to him.

Wait. What about Dad? Was this what they meant by "giving her away?" That suddenly your husband takes the lead, and your father fades into the crowd? But Dad was there first. I have kept ticket stubs and trophies and knick-knacks from childhood trips. I have difficulty parting, of moving on. Was I betraying my father?

As we approached the altar, Dad instinctively pulled me close, while simultaneously looking at Joe as his own son. Then he nudged me toward him. I felt light on my toes as I was brought face to face with my husband. I looked back at my father; he was OK.

Yes, Dad was OK. He got it. He always knew there would come a time when his only daughter would marry; and he was bold enough to tell me if I had been making a mistake. Dad welcomed the end of the aisle and proudly "gave me" to Joe. It wasn't until then that I came to terms with the idea that no one "wins" first place in my heart; though Joe is my soul mate, the role of a father is irreplaceable.

And with my marriage, my father could set aside the weight of caregiver, and offer me a new, adult relationship. I have found a new appreciation for my father as a whole person, not just a parent. And as the phrase goes, my father "giving me away" is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

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