I'm writing this at my daughter Amy's loft in Manhattan. I'm here because I'm babysitting my twin grandsons, Owen and Oliver, one delightful bonus of being the father of the bride. But that's getting ahead of the story.
It all began around six years ago, when Amy and Adam announced they were going to be married the following August. The wedding would take place just before Amy's birthday, because there was no way Adam was going to marry an older woman of 30. That gave us a year to get ready for the big event, with no time to spare, as everyone we talked to hastened to assure us.
My daughter, her mother, her sister Lauren, and I all knew immediately where the wedding would be: the Riverside Church in New York City, where my wife, Jane, and I had met, and where our daughters had progressed through the nursery and church schools as well as the youth department. Jane and I had taught in the Sunday school and chaired committees there, too; it was our place. I'm sure we had both fantasized about Amy and Lauren marrying at Riverside—Jane rising from her front-row seat to signal everyone to stand and see the bride; me making my way down the aisle with a daughter on my arm, my elation matching the swell of the music.
But first things first—and the first thing was definitely the dress. Amy and her sister set out to find the perfect gown, and find one they did: a simple but elegant Vera Wang design. They also found something for Lauren, who would be the only attendant. Though Jane and I were invited to give our approval, we'd been amply warned that Amy's choice was not an inexpensive one. It wasn't, but when she appeared in the dress of her dreams, we didn't think about money. Instead, we all concentrated on holding back the tears that suddenly filled our eyes.
Everything moved quickly from there. Jane made the arrangements with the church, hired a talented woman to do the flowers, and asked our family minister, Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., to officiate. He not only performed the ceremony, returning to New York from semiretirement in Vermont, he also played Charles Gounod's "Ave Maria" on the piano with another friend, Arturo Delmoni, accompanying him on the violin. A reception for 200 followed in the church's assembly hall, with food provided by Matthew's, where Amy was then pastry chef, and music by a band that knew how to make music for the multiple generations that gather at a wedding. I gave a toast, shamelessly proclaiming my hope for babies to come.
It was the most beautiful wedding ever, I thought, and my heart overflowed with the joy of seeing all the people who had made an effort to be there. One dear friend told me later that the smile on my face as Amy and I made our way down the aisle (trying not to slip on the rose petals lavished in our path by the overzealous flower girl) was the best thing about the day. To me, it all seemed like good practice for the wedding of daughter number two. I should have known, however, that Lauren's wedding would be quite a different story.
Whereas Amy married a man with surprisingly few demands and family traditions, allowing us to give free rein to our imaginations, Lauren had fallen in love with Ben, who came from a different religious background and had expectations almost as firm as mine—a now-experienced father of the bride.
Some things, of course, didn't change. Finding the perfect dress still came first. Lauren picked a sexy lace Amsale gown, and at five feet ten inches she looked great in it. With the dress issue more than happily settled, we progressed to the next step.
This wedding, a Christian-Jewish union, would not be held in a church or a synagogue; we decided to have it at our daughter Amy's home in Quogue, New York, the town on Long Island where we had built a house when the girls were young. There, a WASP family, with their Jewish son-in-law to be, set about creating a chuppah from bamboo poles and the Guatemalan tablecloth Jane and I had been given as a wedding present many years before. The aisle we created in the garden, with white chairs on either side, seemed every bit as long as the one I'd walked down in the church with Amy. Bill Coffin again presided for the recitation of the vows, and the cantor who had been at Ben's bar mitzvah sang—he was a former Israeli opera singer with a magnificent voice.
As I listened to my wife read the words from First Corinthians—"Love never gives up; its faith, hope, and patience never fail"—I thought about how Lauren had found Ben pretty special when she met him on her first day at Skidmore College. Now here they were, 13 years later, promising to love one another forever.
After the ceremony, we headed to the pool area, where we had drinks, and then to the tent set up over the tennis court for dinner and dancing. The food, grilled under the stars, was wonderful, the music and toasts were festive, and the rain held off until the reception was well under way. During our father-daughter dance, Lauren confided—as Amy had five years earlier—that the wedding was everything she had wanted it to be, the most beautiful wedding ever. As for me, any thoughts I may have had about the dance required to make these magical weddings possible were quickly vanquished by pride and joy—the kind a father of the bride feels when he realizes he has helped make both of his daughters' dreams come true.