Monday, August 11, 2008

Antiquated Traditions: Giving Away the Bride

In The Bizarre Origins of 8 Wedding Traditions, Jenn Thompson dissects some of our most tried-and-true American wedding traditions.

This one is one of the most personal for me.

Giving Away the Bride
Remember that Women’s Studies class you took in college? Allow us to summarize: All of our society’s gender issues stem from the fact that fathers once used their daughters as currency to a) pay off a debt to a wealthier land owner, b) symbolize a sacrificial, monetary peace offering to an opposing tribe or c) buy their way into a higher social strata. So next time you tear up watching a beaming father walk his little girl down the aisle, remember that it’s just a tiny, barbaric little hold over from the days when daughters were nothing but dollar signs to daddy dearest. And that veil she’s wearing? Yeah, that was so the groom wouldn’t know if he was stuck with an uggo until it was time to kiss the bride and too late to back out on the transaction. (There is also some superstitious B.S. about warding off evil spirits, but we think you’ll agree that hiding a busted grill from the husband-to-be is a more practical purpose.)
So Thompson's tongue-in-cheek description aside, this one is serious for me. First, in full disclosure, I adore my father. We look a lot alike, we think a lot alike, and we act a lot alike. We really do get along famously, and always have. One of my all-time favorite photos is of my sister and my dad walking down the aisle. A picture like that of my dad and me? It'd be a classic.

But when it comes down to it, the symbolism of being "given away" is simply more than I can swallow. My parents are and always have been equal partners - both work, both parent, both clean, both cook (although in fairness, Dad mostly grills while Mom's domain is the kitchen). There is nothing in their partnership that ever suggested to me once growing up that anything they took on together would be anything but a 50/50 split. In fact, during the years when my father had to work out of state and came home only on the weekends, my mom handled everything herself, with her usual take-charge aplomb. Everyone who meets my mom knows in a second that this is a woman who gets things done. Strong women are the standard in my family, on both sides. I also have two fantastic grandmothers who were both known to verbally kick the hell out of my grandfathers from time to time, and fantastic aunts who have raised the smartest, most talented, and most fun girls I can imagine in my cousins.

So the "giving away," then? I just can't go through with it. Even though I know there's not a speck of icky gender politics in our family perspective, it's important to me to make a different statement about family, marriage, and gender than the one that's so often made without thinking. And to be honest, part of the reason the idea of marriage made me nervous in the past was because my parents' marriage was the unattainable model that my relationships always fell short of matching. Until now. Trevor, after all, asked both my parents for "permission" before he proposed. I don't think the concept of just asking my father ever even crossed his mind... it's not who any of us are. So why wouldn't I want both of them with me when I finally do make a lifetime commitment?

Next May, I won't be "given away" by my father. Instead, I'll walk down the aisle with both my parents beside me, one on each arm. To me, it mirrors my parents' relationship, my relationship with them, and my relationship with Trevor. I can't think of anything more personally fitting, actually.

(Oh, and no veil, either. It's another obvious holdover from the days of presentation and barter, and I really don't see the point. Plus, I'll be at the beach, and our wedding will be much too laid-back an affair to deal with a huge, billowy face covering.)

Update: For more thoughts on another bride's decision to walk with both of her parents (which is Jewish tradition, by the way), as well as a great photo from a real wedding using both parents, see A Practical Wedding.


GiGi said...

Both my parents walked my older sister down the aisle when she was married and it was fantastic! After all your model of who you are today was not based/shaped on one parent but both your parents, what a great way to show them both how much they mean to you.

And I never got that whole veil thing either, it makes me feel like I'm making my first holy communion all over again ;-)

Nicole said...

Hi, I stumbled upon your blog and have really enjoyed reading it. It takes me back to planning our wedding over 3 years ago. I had my parents walk me across the bridge (as there wasn't really an isle) because I felt that they both had a role in my life and I wasn't being "given away". I hope you have a wonderful wedding day! Nicole