My wife recently asked me if an acquaintance — someone with a disastrous relationship history — will be having a “destination wedding.” My answer? “Only if the destination is divorce court.”
As you might know, a “destination wedding” is one that requires travel by virtually everyone invited. It doesn’t happen in the home city of the bride or groom, or in the town where their parents live. The “destination” is on a beach, on top of a mountain, or ideally, on a beach that has a mountain top within easy walking distance. The place is glamorous and glorious, like the vacation sites where TV programs such as The Bachelor are filmed. It is “once-in-a-lifetime” dazzling and costs more than most people make in their three most lucrative years of employment — combined. Of course, it also requires the guests to spend a fortune if they wish to attend.
The question is, what must the “interested parties” consider? I’m talking about the engaged couple and their parents. Choice of venue is only one item on the agenda. Among the other decisions, they must determine whom to invite, how many, who will pay for it all, how much (if anything) can parents afford, and whether the people with the “deep pockets” are willing to go over-budget. There are a thousand details about hotel arrangements, music, dancing, menu, the wedding cake, flowers, and party favors. Nor can one forget the religious elements, colors, the wedding dress, the order and scheduling of events. Attention must be paid to booking the perfect honeymoon suite, local transportation for people coming from out-of-town, night-before dinners, and morning-after breakfasts; even table cloths.
Then there are the things that kill your friendships. Who will be the best man/maid of honor? Who will be in the wedding party? How will I tell those who expect to participate that they got squeezed out? My head hurts just thinking about all this and I’m not even involved in such decisions any more.
Since I have two married daughters, I must have put on two weddings. I’m a little fuzzy on this point. To be more precise, my wife and daughters put on the weddings, once my wife and I agreed on how much we’d be willing to spend. I then became blind and deaf to the process and the incredible amount of “wedding talk” that went on until the event was over. Those conversations continued beyond all reason. Less time was spent by the World War II Allied Forces in planning the D-Day invasion of Western Europe. Less time was spent building the Great Wall of China. I shut out as much as I could in order to preserve my sanity, keep my eyes from glazing over, and prevent saliva from dribbling out of my mouth. I would have been rendered insensible had I paid attention. Talk to me about psychology, politics, classical music, baseball, visual art, history, fiction, the economy or just about anything else, but please, please, please allow me to leave the room when you start the “wedding talk.”
Although the largest amount of time is spent discussing the details I mentioned, there are other less explicit and material considerations. I’m referring to the questions of values and priorities. For example, does it matter more to you that your close friend is at the big event or that the big event is on a big beach in Big Sur, California and your friend is back in Back Bay, Boston, Massachusetts, 3000 miles away, bawling buckets of tears?
Then there is the moral question: how do you deal with the notion that you could retire the National Debt if you made out your check to the federal government rather than the florist? Yes, I get the part about it being your special day, the day you will remember for ever and ever, and that will happen (you hope) only once in your life. Still, as my mother used to say years ago when I didn’t finish eating everything on my plate at dinner, “How can you not eat? People are starving in India!”
It eventually occurred to me that my eating wasn’t going to feed anyone else, and that some of the Indians might have preferred to skip a meal than eat my mom’s concoctions, but I do think that the ridiculous excess of a six-figure wedding is a little unseemly. Have you thought about putting some of the money toward a charity? Really. Today, by the way, Indian mothers probably tell their dinner-disinterested children who are pushing away a plate full of tandoori chicken, “How can you not eat? People are starving in the USA!”
My effort to escape the wedding planning did not, in fact, include every element of the nuptials. There was a single portion of the extravaganza about which I didn’t zone out. It was the sole item I wanted to think about and work on. It was the one thing that was mine alone: the speech by the father of the bride.
Now, I’ve been told that I’m a good public speaker. I work at it. But I have never put as much effort into any other speech preparation as I did for the orations given at each of my daughters’ weddings. Although it didn’t equal the D-Day planners in time spent, it was pretty close. I had the necessary soliloquy ready months before the date, maybe even a year. And I memorized and rehearsed; and rehearsed; and rehearsed. Why? Because it was a wonderfully special day that required just the right words and, in each case, I didn’t know if I could get through the performance without breaking down. For the nuptials of my first-born this was particularly hard. Even when I practiced it on the morning of the day itself, my voice still cracked and tears got in the way. This was not a problem except that the performer is supposed to allow the audience to have the feelings, and this is a whole lot easier if you can actually finish what you’d like to say.
But when the moment came, it all worked. My advice to dads or moms who choose to speak? Spend more time on this than anything else. As for the rest, be as generous as you can without cleaning out your retirement savings. But also realize that the fate of the free world doesn’t hang on spending tons of money. It’s probably long past time that you teach your child and his/her intended the value of a dollar, and that their love for each other is more important than having a Golden Calf in the middle of the banquet hall. Don’t show-off to your family and friends how successful you are by putting Kate Middleton’s wedding to shame. There are lots of people who have great weddings on flat and modest grounds, indoors, in some location that isn’t half-way across the world. Your children’s friends will be grateful and the bride and groom will be happy that they were there.
In my next blog post, I’ll tell you exactly what I said in the speech I gave at my first born’s wedding. For now, you can read the one that I gave on my second child’s big day: A Wedding Toast.
The top photo is The Kennedys by Toni Frissell (The Kennedy-Bouvier Wedding), September 12, 1953. The second image is the painting Bride and Groom by Modigliani, 1915/1916. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.