Enjoying Dad's Altared State

By Kimberly Palmer
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, June 20, 2005

My dad likes to pretend he's not excited about my wedding. It's not that he doesn't love my fiance; he's constantly saying how lucky he is to have Sujay for a future son-in-law. But as the oldest of his three daughters, I've grown up hearing that not only is it ludicrous for the bride's family to pay for the wedding but that weddings in general are a huge waste of money.

When the topic comes up, he usually scrunches up his face in disgust.

"Why would you throw away that money when most marriages end in divorce?" he says, shrugging for emphasis.

So when Sujay called my parents to ask for their support a week before he proposed to me, it wasn't long before my dad asked us what kind of wedding we were thinking of having. We didn't want to spend a lot of money, did we? Should we think about having just a small family gathering? While generously offering to foot most of the bill, he made it clear that he strongly preferred a streamlined, nothing-but-the-basics approach.

Sujay and I were flexible; we weren't entirely sure what we wanted. My mom and I scoped out potential wedding sites; we toured the Strathmore concert hall in Montgomery County and looked up some cheaper public parks. We took my dad along to one of our favorites, and also one of the more expensive options -- the Audubon Naturalist Society's Woodend Sanctuary, a nature preserve in Chevy Chase.

My dad was the first to offer a definitive opinion. "Wouldn't this be perfect?" he asked as he toured the mansion and hemlock grove, well before my mom or I had to sell him on the benefits of an outdoor wedding, or the special meaning that came from the fact that I used to attend summer camp there. We signed the contract before we left.

With that big decision behind us, we recommitted ourselves to being economical as we looked for a photographer. There was no need for an expensive wedding specialist, and certainly no need for an accompanying videographer, a popular add-on to photo packages. I found a relatively new company that had reasonable rates.

Before signing the contract, I asked my dad what he thought. "We can get the complete package for just $2,000," I said, "and that's considered a good deal." The package included engagement shots, a photo album and a Web site.

"What about a parents' album? Can we get that, too?" my dad wanted to know.

I explained that we could, but it would add $500 to the cost.

"We need it," he said.

A few days later, he approached me with another suggestion: What if we hire a videographer? He knew I wanted to keep things simple, but as a film professor, he thought one of his students might be willing to tape the wedding for a reasonable price.

"We might as well have something we can always look at," he said. I smiled and agreed.

As the wedding costs slowly balloon, my dad seems to be the one getting the most excited about the big day, even though he still tries to muffle his enthusiasm.

And his attitude shift seems to have spread beyond the ceremony. At a recent family dinner, the topic of children came up.

"Oh, girls, you don't want children," he said to me and my younger sisters. "They'll take over your life." He started delving into the expense, time demands and lifestyle change brought on by babies.

My mom rolled her eyes, her usual response to his rants. Then she revealed what he had purchased at a recent school auction they attended: Willard Scott's "If I Knew It Was Going to Be This Much Fun, I Would Have Become a Grandparent First."

I guess he's not so good at hiding how he really feels.


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