Archived Story

Politics takes back seat when children wed

Published 10:00am Friday, September 28, 2012

Column: Notes from Home

In the life of a family, there are moments where time and experience and emotion get all bound up with each other. These are the thick moments of life like births or graduations — or the marriage of the oldest daughter — when the otherwise mundane routines of a family take on an unexpected poignancy, as if something immense and transcendent is just on the edge of becoming concrete. These are the moments when the outside world becomes dim and distant, or perhaps disappears entirely.

It’s the kind of time when an intention to write exclusively about the dirty world of politics as election day approaches gets set aside.

When a daughter gets married, and she’s the first child to get married, certain things are supposed to happen (and I’m not referring to the kinds of things that relate to checkbooks and caterers, although that is also something that happens at weddings). A daughter’s wedding is supposed to be an emotional experience: Eyes get moist. Tears run down cheeks. Noses get blown.

So the oldest daughter gets married. It’s a beautiful outdoor ceremony, with trees turning orange, yellow and gold in the background, while in the foreground a string quartet plays as the assembled congregation gazes at a phalanx of lovely young women in an eclectic assortment of wildflower orange gowns and handsome young men dressed up in black suits with matching ties. The clouds had swarmed through the sky all day, but then parted in the afternoon, just in time for sunlight to brighten the gowns of the women and the blue of the men’s ties.

The tears, however, did not appear. I was prepared for what I thought was coming. The outside pocket of my suit jacket was full of tissues, and there was a handkerchief in the back pocket of my pants. I even overruled my inner Vulcan, suppressing logic and my usual distaste for emotional display, as I waited for the pain of the rip in my heart that was inevitable.

In the interests of full disclosure, technically, the eyes actually did itch and the nose dripped a little, but it was because of ragweed, not due to the emotional upheaval I was expecting. It was an outdoor wedding.

Time passed, and no moist eyes or drippy noses produced by out-of-control emotions manifested themselves as I escorted my own bride down the aisle and participated in the service that fixed my daughter’s life firmly with her new husband’s. Continuing in my dry-eyed state, I wondered whether I should pretend to cry.

So it went the rest of the evening, as we ate a fine meal — vegetarian, prepared with locally grown organic grains and vegetables — drank many bottles of wine and pints of ale, and danced. Yes. Me. I danced … with my bride, both daughters and a couple of women to whom I’m not related. I think I may have even danced with the groom and one of my son’s friends. Apparently silliness was on the menu.

Throughout that long afternoon and evening and well into the night, not even the tiniest tear emerged from my ducts. Friends and family hugged me, congratulated me, and said I was so brave to not be overwhelmed with weeping. But I wasn’t brave at all. I just wasn’t feeling sad.

On the way home the next day, however, the Honda Civic packed to the roof with all the leftover debris from the wedding weekend, my eyes brimmed over. I sniffed. I finally felt the pain of that abrupt rip in my heart as images of the wedding ceremony from the day before came unbidden into my memory bank.

Tears of joy they were, but they were running down my cheeks, making it harder to see the highway. Where was that inner Vulcan when I needed him? I had to keep blinking my eyes and wiping with my shirtsleeves, not having any tissues or handkerchiefs handy — they were all still in the pockets of my suit, which was in the trunk. And so it went, all the way home.


David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.