A wedding is just as much a momentous, emotional occasion for the parents of the couple as it is for the couple themselves—and the special bond between a father and daughter is brought into focus throughout the entire planning process. “I consider the father of the bride a great resource for helping you find your center when things get crazy,” says event planner Kawania Wooten. “Above all, he’s a support system.”
Meet the Expert
Kawania Wooten is the principal consultant of Howerton+Wooten Events, an event planning company based in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. Wooten is also a wedding industry educator, and her advice has been featured on Refinery29, Martha Stewart Weddings, InStyle, Bridal Guide, and numerous podcasts.
Beyond that key role, there are a few more traditional duties the father of the bride (FOB) should know about. Read on for our complete list of responsibilities to expect before, during, and after the wedding.
Duties Before the Wedding
If possible, help out financially.
In traditional heterosexual Western weddings, the father of the bride has historically covered the cost of the wedding. These days, anything goes! Couples often pool from multiple resources to finance their celebrations. If you can contribute, know your daughter and her future spouse will be beyond grateful for any assistance. But also know that this is their celebration, and a financial contribution should not equate to the couple feeling pressured to do things your way.
Get to know the other set of parents.
If you haven’t met your daughter’s fiancé(e)’s parents, now is the time! If you have the couples’ blessing to do so, reach out shortly after the engagement. If an in-person meeting is possible, arrange one with the whole group. Getting to know each other’s inflections and senses of humor will go a long way when it comes to more serious conversations about wedding planning down the line.
Throw an engagement party.
Traditionally hosted by the bride’s parents, an engagement party serves as the kickoff to a couples’ engagement. While you’re by no means obligated to host such a soirée, it is a nice gesture if you have the means and will.
Wait until the wedding guest list is set before creating an engagement party guest list, as you wouldn’t want to invite anyone to an engagement party that isn’t invited to the actual wedding.
Choose attire that goes with the celebration.
Don’t assume you can dust off an old tuxedo and call it a day. Talk to your daughter, get a feel for the vibe and style of the celebration, and pick out something to match. “Ask the couple what type of attire the wedding party will wear, and make your choices based on that,” adds Wooten.
Help negotiate contracts if asked.
Unexpected circumstances—like, say, a global pandemic—can arise during wedding planning, and a couple might be too emotionally distraught to handle difficult conversations should the situation call for renegotiations. “It can help me as a wedding planner to work with a parent,” says Wooten. “In two instances, I’ve [explained] to an FOB what needed to be said, only it had to come from a client and not from me. They were able to get us out of a contract that I didn’t necessarily think we’d get out of.”
Be a sense of calm in the storm.
A wedding is a costly, time-intensive event that a couple must plan in tandem with their real-world responsibilities. When your daughter comes to you with her struggles, listen. After all, just having the space to vent can be helpful.
Duties During the Wedding
Start the day with a nice gesture.
“The biggest gift a dad can give their daughter on their wedding day is his blessing, his encouragement, and his advice,” says Wooten. That being said, a material gift isn’t necessary for your daughter—especially if you’ve financially contributed to the wedding—but a sentimental gesture or action the morning of the wedding can still go a long way. “I had one dad that makes breakfast every Saturday morning, and he made a point of getting up [the wedding] morning and cooking his daughter a last breakfast,” Wooten offers as an example.
Be ready for the father-daughter first look.
Before the bride and her spouse share their first look, another important wedding day milestone occurs: the father/daughter first look. This moment, which involves the bride showing off her wedding day look to her dad, happens after the bride finishes getting ready and before she heads out to see her spouse. It’s an opportunity for the bride to express her love and gratitude to her father, and for the father to express his love and pride for his daughter. “The first thing dad needs is a cloth handkerchief in his pocket,” says Wooten. “Because it looks good in pictures, and somebody’s going to use it. Also, be sure you’re on time, and be sure to tell your daughter how beautiful she looks.”
Walk your daughter down the aisle.
If the bride will be standing on the left side of the altar, it typically works best for her to walk down the left-hand side of the aisle, with her father on the right. Whichever side you walk, help your daughter keep an even pace. “Your daughter is going to fly down that aisle,” says Wooten. “Remind her to slow down, soak in the scene, and look at the guests there.” This will also give the photographer ample time to capture everything.
Give the bride away at the altar.
In some Western and Christian ceremonies, the officiant may ask “Who presents this woman to be married?” when you and the bride reach the altar. Discuss your response with the bride and the bride’s mother or secondary parent figure ahead of time. You can reply with “I do,” “her mother and I do,” “her family and I do,” or “She presents herself, with her family’s blessing,” depending on what’s most appropriate. Feel free to hug and/or kiss her afterward—and don't forget about your daughter's spouse! Give them a handshake, a hug, or a kiss before making your way to your seat.
Take your place in the recessional.
After the vows have been exchanged and the pronouncement has been made, it’s the time to recess out of the ceremony. The parents of the bride typically come last, after the wedding party, grandparents, and parents of the groom.
Pose for portraits.
You’ll likely do some photos ahead of the ceremony, and some photos during cocktail hour. If you took care of immediate family portraits ahead of the ceremony, the cocktail hour is a good opportunity for portraits with your extended family, or with friends of your own that are attending the affair.
Give a toast.
Before dinner begins, the host of the evening should welcome guests and thank them for coming. If that’s you, feel free to use the moment to also give your toast to the newly married couple. (If the couple is hosting, your time typically comes immediately after the first course of dinner is served, or just after dinner.)
Whenever it happens, the father of the bride toast is a big moment. While the content will be personal, Wooten does have a few general guidelines: “Practice your toast, because you’re going to be emotional. Keep it positive, and be mindful of jokes—especially if it’s a multicultural wedding because not everybody receives jokes the same way.”
If your speech is going to be longer than five minutes, give the event coordinator the heads up. “I had a wedding with a beautiful ice cream display,” says Wooten. “Without warning, the dad gave a 20-minute speech, and the ice cream melted!”
Dance in the father-daughter dance.
There are plenty of emotional moments at a wedding, so don’t be afraid to go with something uptempo, quirky, and fun here. “Pick something that makes you laugh or makes you smile,” says Wooten. “I had a bride dance with her dad to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ because the dad was a huge baseball fan. Another bride danced with her father to ‘Shout!’ by the Isley Brothers. Everyone else joined in halfway through, and that kicked off the party.”
Say goodbye to guests who leave early.
“For senior guests and those that typically leave early, if the couple doesn’t see them, the parents of the bride should make sure they know they’re appreciated,” says Wooten.
Help wrap up loose ends.
If a coordinator is not in charge of these duties, the father of the bride may also be tasked with distributing tips to vendors or getting any gifts brought to the reception to a place where they can be kept overnight.
Duties After the Wedding
Return any tuxedo rentals.
If you’ll already be dropping off yours and you know the groomsmen might be too tired (read: hungover) to remember to do the same, offer to bring theirs along as well.
Mail in the marriage license.
This can be especially helpful if the couple heads out for their honeymoon the morning after the wedding.
Host a next-day gathering.
Breakfast can be a big ask—you’re exhausted, your guests are exhausted—but if the wedding is local to the family and the weather’s right, Wooten suggests hosting a barbeque the next afternoon. “It gives dad a chance to be more casual in his own setting,” says Wooten. “Just bring someone in to do the food. Don’t cook it yourself!”