At daughter's wedding, the truest kind of love

The author, husband John Stern, and daughter Ariel.
The author, husband John Stern, and daughter Ariel. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 30, 2011

Melissa Dribben is an Inquirer staff writer

She called from the restaurant. "We're getting married!" I could almost hear her heart racing.

The waiters, in on the deal, had brought the ring on a dessert plate, then captured the moment on her boyfriend's iPhone. The photo arrived via e-mail seconds later. Candlelight and a kiss. Their eyes, incandescent.

So romantic. So sweet. So different from the moment my husband and I resolved to team up for life.

We had been ragged around the edges. Living in different cities, exhausted. We'd had a fight. "If that's what you want, we should get married."

"All right. Let's."

Our wedding was small. We were minimalists then. At my mother's urging, I consented to a veil.

The weather was miserable. I'd wanted roses but got mums instead. There was no amp for the band, so no one danced. But the day, despite its flaws, was one of those wonderful few in a lifetime. The ones that stay suspended in your memory, surviving on the oxygen of consequence.

Everyone there had known us well and long enough to appreciate that what they were witnessing was the truest kind of love. Perfect in its imperfection.

He was methodical. I was impulsive. He had a mind for science. I, a mouth for words. He memorized textbooks but could never recall what he'd promised me the day before. I knew "Jabberwocky" by heart but could never find my keys. Or driver's license. Or W-2s.

Now here we were, 31 years later, at our daughter's wedding, witnessing the truest kind of love.

He is methodical, but so is she. Their house is immaculate. They're both always on time. They take in stray cats, volunteer for worthy causes, and run half-marathons. But you can't make a pair with two right feet. So lucky for them, he likes zombie thrillers and cerebral foreign films while she's a sucker for rom-com and Friends reruns. He has a mind for contracts and logic. She has a heart for broken souls. (And a mouth for words.)

When your children fall in love, you can only stand by and hope they've chosen well. There are psychos and narcissists out there. Manipulators and clingers. And scariest of all, people with no sense of humor. You can't stop your kids from courting disaster. When they brought home losers, we knew better than to interfere. Protesting was bound to drive them together.

Even good matches can have bad consequences for the parents.

One of my friends has a daughter who married a Frenchman and moved to Bordeaux, which makes it hard to drop by for déjeuner. My son-in-law's younger brother just moved to Japan. Even more of a schlep.

Fortunately, my daughter was marrying well. And close to home.

I love her guy, not the least because he understands her. Soon after they started dating, he began carrying granola bars around with him, knowing she gets cranky when she's hungry.

What more could a mother want?

We spent 10 months planning the wedding, starting with the gown.

It could have gone so wrong. We'd watched Say Yes to the Dress in which teary-eyed daddies shell out enough cash to pay off Third World debt, trying to appease their whinging, mascaraed baby girls.

We were prepared to search long and hard, but on her first trip to a bridal shop, she tried on a sample, marked down 50 percent. "This is it, Mom!" she said. Three weeks later, I found my mother-of-the-bride stunner on eBay. And my younger daughter, the maid of honor, chose a vintage gown I'd stashed in a basket under my bed.

My son and my husband built the chuppah out of molding and dowels. Neither had the carpentry skills to create what I'd imagined, an arch that my daughter and her husband might put in their garden one day. If they have a garden.

She told me, sensibly, to let it go. The ceremony would last 20 minutes. As long as the thing didn't collapse, what did it matter?

We took Lindy Hop lessons for a year and got good enough not to embarrass ourselves.

We made the invitations, sewing the leaves of handmade paper with linen thread. In June, when I took the stack to the post office, the clerk miscalculated, so some arrived with postage due.

Our side of the family understood. I'm the ditz who can never find her W-2s. The new in-laws, however, must have worried what their son was getting into.

We saved about $25, which I actually appreciated. Have you ever seen the Steve Martin movie Father of the Bride? In one scene Martin's character is so crazed from writing checks that he tears open a package of hot dog buns in the supermarket because he doesn't want the full dozen. The fit he throws lands him in jail.

A week before her wedding, my daughter laughed, "I think we're at the hot dog bun stage."

During the tent installation, electricians had to look for underground power lines - and charged $1,000 for their effort. The caterer wanted additional sheltered space - at $400. And the seamstress attached the veil upside down, and I had to pay someone else to fix it.

The average wedding in this country costs $26,542. Roughly a semester's tuition at Wharton. A nice Volvo sedan. Or a lifetime of Saturday night pizza and DVDs.

Lucky we're not Puritans. We'd have missed a slammin' good party.

The night before the wedding, we took our out-of-town guests bowling, and I scored three strikes and two spares in a row.

Auspicious, I figured, but the odds were already with the bride and groom.

According to the human behavior bookies at the National Center for Health Statistics, my daughter and her husband have better than an 80 percent chance of still brushing their teeth in the same bathroom on their 10th anniversary. They're the right age (over 26), have the right diplomas (college and more), share the same race (half-marathons), and lived with their parents when they were 14 years old.

If they wait eight months before having their first baby, they'll be up in 90 percent territory.

The morning of the ceremony the weather was miserable, the clouds ambivalent, the ground soaked and muddy. I spent an hour spreading hay under the tent and down the path to the chuppah, which had been transformed - wreathed in ivy, hung with hydrangeas, and covered with my mother-in-law's lace tablecloth.

At 5:45 p.m., she and he stood under it, sipping wine from pewter goblets, slipping rings on each other's fingers, and making promises. As a pink sun set behind them, my husband put his arm around me and I cried.

The musician played the wrong song when they walked down the aisle. A yellow jacket buzzed my daughter's head during the ceremony. Guests arrived late. A case of wine was misplaced.

It was one of those wonderful few days in a lifetime, perfect in its imperfection.

Weddings, like marriages, are complicated. A lot is beyond our control, and managing the rest requires work, compromise, laughter, and luck.

On the way home that night, my younger daughter sat in the backseat, exhausted from dancing, surrounded by centerpieces and bottles of champagne.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm going to elope."

That would be tragic. She already has that veil. We know how to Lindy Hop. And next time, we know where the tent stakes should go.

I turned around and squeezed her hand.

"Please don't."

Contact Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or


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