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It Can Be a Difficult Day for Dear Old Dad

Emotions: Fathers often feel pain, even betrayal, at the marriage of a daughter. Experts offer some advice for brides on dealing with it.

September 02, 1998|KATHLEEN O. RYAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Charlie was one of those tough guys with a tender heart, but, on this particular day, the commanding presence and macho facade were nowhere to be found. Every time he caught a glimpse of his beautiful and confident daughter, tears filled his eyes.

Being the father of the bride would leave a dent in his checkbook, but a bigger hole was surely being left in his heart.

None of this was lost on his daughter, Candice. As she and the groom attended to their guests, she also remained attentive to her dad with soft words, frequent hugs and spins around the dance floor. After all, hadn't he been the one who took her to those years of ballet lessons, sat through countless tennis matches and helped her mend a few broken hearts of her own?

This was not an easy day for him and she knew it.

A child's wedding day is a mixed bag of emotions for parents, but for Dad it often means coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer the most loved man in his daughter's life.

"A girl's first love is her father," says Mariam Solomon, a West Los Angeles couples therapist and author of "The Power of Positive Dependency in Intimate Relationships" (Simon & Schuster, 1994). "Fathers teach daughters how to be in relationships with men. A good father wants his daughter to have the best husband possible, but he knows he must give up something that is extraordinarily important to him for that to happen."

It's no mystery why the bride's first dance with her father at the reception is traditionally to the tune of "Daddy's Little Girl."

"The father-daughter relationship preserves a kind of sweetness and softness inside men that they are not allowed to show to the rest of the world," says Santa Monica psychiatrist Mark Goulston, author of "Getting Out of Your Own Way, Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior" (the Berkeley Group, 1996). "When a daughter gets married, you may no longer be free to dote on her, spoil her and be the big hero--things men are not often able to do with a son."

Goulston believes some men may feel a sense of betrayal, and show it by becoming sullen or acting uninterested in wedding plans and events. In fact, the doctor surmises, the men are facing being betrayed by age more than by their daughters. "Along with getting older is the painful realization that there are more achievements behind you than there are goals ahead of you," he says.

But brides can help their fathers get through this wrenching passage. First, say experts, brides need to recognize that other people in the wedding party--that is to say, their fathers--have needs too.

"Try to understand what it's like to be in your dad's shoes," says Goulston. "Acknowledge that this is a painful time for him. Assure him you are changing, but not losing your relationship."

Both Solomon and Goulston suggest that the bride write a letter to her father. Thank him for the good times you had together, and tell him the lessons and values you learned from him.

Goulston also believes that brides can rekindle the special times and feelings that fathers have for their wives by reminiscing with them about their own newlywed days.

And brides should never assume their fathers don't want to be personally involved in the wedding plans. "It's a day he's been thinking about since you were born. Give him the chance to participate," says Beverly Clark, a Santa Barbara-based author whose books include "Weddings, a Celebration" (Wilshire Publications, 1997).

Clark suggests that brides ask their dads for advice about selecting a location for the wedding, food, beverages and tuxedos. If Dad doesn't want to help with the planning, Clark says there are other ways to get him involved.

"Incorporate something from his family's tradition or ask him if there is something he'd like to have included in the festivities," says Clark. "You might ask him to put together a slide or photo montage to be shown at the rehearsal dinner."

Clark suggests these other ways to single out Dad for special treatment on the bride's big day:

* Give him a special memento from your childhood or a gift of appreciation.

* Have a poem read or special piece of music played at your ceremony, reception, rehearsal dinner.

* Arrange special transportation to the wedding that would make a lasting memory for the two of you.

* Arrange to have breakfast with Dad on the morning of the wedding.

* Dance with your father more than once at the reception. Make him feel he will always be your first love.

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