When you have daughters, one of the hazards of fatherhood is paying for their weddings – hopefully not while you’re still paying for their college education.
This usually means you have to raid your retirement fund and then keep working long enough to recoup the losses. And when you have four daughters, the raids are more frequent and you can kiss the idea of ever retiring goodbye.
I did a lot of Internet research when two of my daughters told me they were getting married within three months of each other because I was hoping times had changed and that in the enlightened 21st century, the father of the groom picked up the tab. No such luck.
Even though the rules of etiquette have changed in many areas, one thing seems to have regrettably stayed the same: The father of the bride foots the bill.
Nevertheless, these weddings taught me some valuable lessons about more than spending money. What I learned wasn’t about bridal planning, and it wasn’t about flower arrangements or picking a hall or selecting church readings or buying gowns and tuxedos.
I learned the true secret of holy matrimony. I was reminded that despite social changes, matrimony is a sacrament and it’s a sacred union of a man and a woman. That sounds a bit theological and certainly anachronistic in an era when people get divorced for all sorts of frivolous reasons.
Society would have you believe something’s wrong if you struggle to work things out in your marriage instead of following the heavily trafficked path of separation, particularly in an age when the divorce rate for people over 50 is accelerating like never before and our celebrity role models hop from bed to bed rather than have long-term commitments.
However, I got some spiritual insights when my daughter Dana was married at St. Michael’s Church in Beacon Falls. When Father Len Kvedas read the "exhortation before marriage," it was an eye-opener for me.
Thirty-four years ago, he married my wife Sandy and me, and I was probably asleep or starry-eyed because I don’t remember a word he said. This time, though, I listened and I listened closely, and it all made sense.
Maybe I’m older and wiser. Or maybe Father read more slowly. Or maybe the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder so the advice would sink in and I wouldn’t take my marriage for granted.
Father told Dana and Dan, "You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred because it was established by God himself."
Then, he said, "This union is most serious because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. … And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death."
He talked about the fundamental principle that is the foundation of a lasting marriage – it wasn’t a mutual love of the Red Sox, or separate checking accounts, or having cool friends, or the equitable division of the household chores, or the ability to kiss and make up, or landing high-paying jobs in financial services. It was "sacrifice."
Why do I cringe whenever I hear that word? I don’t mind sacrifice as long as someone else is doing it. To me, there’s nothing more frightening than "sacrifice," and yet without it, a marriage is doomed to divorce court.
The "me first" attitude is destructive in a marriage, and I hesitate to admit this, but "me first" has been my lifelong motto, which is probably why my marriage has hit a few bumps along the way.
"Henceforth, you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections," Father said. "And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete."
Just when I thought I had all the answers about marriage, all the secrets to success, I realized I was a novice. This marriage thing is harder than I thought it would be, but there’s always hope.
"No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end," Father said. "May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God."
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.