This weekend, I am going to New York City to attend the wedding of my daughter, my only child. Emma and her about-to-be husband Jay Jaffe are both baseball writers, they live in Brooklyn and are passionate New Yorkers, we could not really live lives that are much more different and still be on the same continent.
Being a father is one of the seminal experiences of my life, I have often struggled with how to be a good father and what it means. I have not always been a good father, I have no excuses, but I had no real model for it. The children of divorce have a complex life in many ways, their very idea of family is broken, the world as they know it is altered forever.
A month ago, my daughter called me up and told me gingerly that there was a dress code for the wedding, she was concerned, I think, that I might wear jeans or farm boots. I told her I would be happy to follow the rules and wear chinos, but could not and would not wear a tie. She accepted that, a bit reluctantly I think. I’m not always sure they know what to make of me in Brooklyn.
Emma told me that it would not be necessary for me to walk her down the aisle, in Brooklyn they did not support the Patriarchy. She said later she was sort of kidding, but she was not, and did not need to be. My daughter is proud and strong and tough and she does not need to be walked down the aisle by me or anyone else. She can make it herself, she does not need to be given away. I did help pick the music for the first dance.
I am not certain what my role is at the wedding, I will give a toast, maybe, dance with my daughter, meet and see many people from my former life, people I have not seen or talked with in some time. I will be there with Maria. I will celebrate Emma’s good and loving relationship with Mr. Jaffe, they are very good together. She feels safe, loved and supported, he is very good to her and very good for her. And she, I think, for him.
The Patriarchy thing is interesting, it is not really a joke. I think men are ruining the world and may yet destroy it, I would be happy to help tear the Patriarchy down – it is on ugly display in Washington every day. I have never made a good Patriarch, I don’t have a feel for it, and I like women a lot more than I like most men.
But the collapse of the Patriarchy speaks to the complexity of being a father in our world, and what it means today.
It once meant protecting and providing, it does not necessarily mean that any more. Women can protect and provide for themselves, and are doing it all the time, everywhere. I have always thought being a father meant offering support and wisdom, hard to do once your child figures out that you are both exasperating and stupid.
For some time now, men have been struggling to figure out their roles in the family, the world keeps changing on them.
Over time, I have come to see that the ambitions of a father are really rather simple, if not easy to accomplish. We want them to be happy. All of us will always see our daughters as little girls at times, precious and dependent on us for strength and guidance. A marriage of a daughter is a profound transition for a father, a kind of saying goodbye. She is leaving one chapter in her life, and entering another, it will necessarily take her away from me, and into the world of marriage, perhaps mothering and parenting and working up life’s ladder.
I am not one of those parents who believes my child should be preoccupied with me at this stage of her life, she is off to build her own life. I am there to cheer her on, help when asked, and wave the banner from the dock. So what is it that we fathers want to see and do at the wedding of their daughters? Here’s the simple part again. We just want them to be happy, to believe that they are. That is the point, that is what it is all about.
I will always mourn a bit the period of my daughter’s life when I was at the center of her universe, when I was the source of much of her comfort and safety. I fear I was erratic in that, I was restless, unhappy, disturbed for so much of her life. And then I was gone, to a farm hundreds of miles away. I shudder to think of how she saw it, I am sometimes afraid to ask her.
This is a time to move to the periphery, she has always been independent. A good father knows when to get out of the way. I am grateful for the connection we have to one another, the love we have for each other, the way we always keep in touch with each other, even through some hard and challenging times.
At this point, it is too late to explain to any daughter what it means to be a father. They have other things on their mind.
That I will always worry about her, to my last breath. That I would gladly die to protect her and that I also understand what Christopher Hitchens wrote in his memoir: “nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.” I love my wife dearly, but there is no love in the world like the love of a father for his daughter.
My job this weekend is to cheer her on, this is not a time for either of us to worry about me. I know what it means to find love, and she has found it long before I did. Good for her. Good for them.
So this is where my head is as I prepare to go to New York for rehearsal dinners, a wedding and a reception. Take some wedding pictures. Maybe find some carriage drivers to visit in the morning. Walk through the park with Maria. I will brush against my past, and I will give a toast and raise a glass to them and hopefully, get the first dance. Then I will go back home to my life, and my love, and leave her to hers.
I will celebrate this very happy event with an open heart and will, I am grateful to be there.
And the really good news: Emma is happy. She loves her life, her work, her husband. Can any father wish for more than that?