Now here we are, the next day it seems, and you are all grown up, ready to be married and start a family of your own. Somehow time fast-forwarded and compressed, the space-time continuum collapsing on itself as memories come flooding back all at once. Using duct tape on your diapers because you kept tearing them off, often at times most inopportune and embarrassing for your young parents. The attempted backflip off the couch when you were 6, which you didn’t quite land, instead face-planting and knocking out two teeth. Growing up, that fiery temper, that unconquerable will, and that refusal to let anyone think they’d tamed you; getting in trouble and telling me you were glad you were on TV restriction because it gave you more time to read. I wasn’t sure I’d survive those days.
Then again, my Manual for Raising Perfect Children had omitted the section on teenage daughters; a simple oversight, I am sure. I’m pretty sure Washington could have defeated the British and won the Revolution in three months had they kept the fathers and sons home and just sent out a battalion of angry teenage daughters who’d just been told that their latest crush was no good and they were forbidden from seeing him. The British would have surrendered instantly. I often wondered if I’d ever do anything right as a father during that time. Being a father of a teenage girl is a humbling experience.
Though I would not volunteer to repeat it, the month I spent at your bedside in the hospital was in many ways a blessing, allowing us a lot of uninterrupted time (well, except for the constant flow of doctors and nurses) to talk. I will be forever grateful for the closeness that brought to our relationship, and the trust it established. You learned that I set rules to protect you, not just to spoil your fun arbitrarily. I learned that you were a lot wiser and observant than I’d given you credit for.
So now here we are. You are soon to be a bride, and I will become the second-most loved man in your life. A bittersweet feeling to be sure, but such is as God intended; “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” One flesh … An interesting phrase evoking powerful imagery. Not two joined side by side, very close but still separate; one flesh. In one flesh you will share in the joy of God’s creation, bringing children of your own into the world. In one flesh you will become unified in body and in mind, the two halves creating a greater whole, becoming one in purpose. In a truly unified marriage, the union of a man and a woman, we find the greatest joy that God has offered us here on the Earth.
However, as with all things we value most, marriage brings our greatest joy because it requires our greatest sacrifice. Behind every strong marriage you will find a husband and wife who have overcome trials and tribulations together. Marriage is the refiner’s fire that tempers the soul, burning off the dross of selfishness, pettiness, and our baser character traits. Marriage sharpens the steel of the soul, bringing out our finer qualities.
So, most precious daughter, as you prepare to kneel before the altar and pledge your eternal love and commitment to your husband-to-be, indulge a foolish old man as he offers a few words of wisdom, obtained through trial and error, gathered over the course of more than two decades of my own marriage.
First and foremost, remember that the strongest marriages will always have their foundation in faith in God. If you seek God’s will in all things, then nothing you do in that pursuit will ever weaken your marriage. Kneel in prayer with your husband daily, and feast upon the words of the prophets revealed through Holy Scripture. In these you find peace, comfort, and knowledge.
Next, always place the needs of your husband above your own, as he must do for you as well. Early on in our marriage your mother and I struggled, and I feared that love alone would not be enough to save the marriage. It just seemed we were always arguing about something, often over trivial things. Then a close friend gave me sage advice. He said, “You can be right, or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.” In other words, if I was intent on winning the arguments, my marriage was doomed. But if getting my way was less important than making sure your mother was happy, then our marriage would thrive. He was right. I began making a conscious effort to place your mother’s needs above my own, and the results were surprising, to say the least. I found that, instead of suffering because I was devoted to her needs at the expense of my own, she made an even greater effort to take care of my needs. I will forever be grateful for that one little sentence that saved my marriage.
Remember also that we are all flawed, and all make mistakes, which can become magnified in the early years of marriage as you try to acclimate to true compromise. When you are wrong, admit you are wrong and ask forgiveness. When he is wrong, be patient with him. Fighting is easy; patience requires far more, but is more rewarding. Accusations and recrimination breed resentment in him, even if he knows he is wrong. Patience and kindness will humble him, and make him work harder to be a better man.
Always respect him, and expect the same respect in return. Never fight or criticize each other in front of someone else. Never criticize him to your friends, and never belittle him. It will get back to him, and the damage can be almost irreparable. If there is a complaint, work it out through prayer and talking in the privacy of your home. Always present a united front, for you are, after all, one flesh.
Work hard, play hard and enjoy life. Find joy in the day to day, even if you have to work to find it. Otherwise, you will always be waiting for the good times, only to wake up one day and find the good times have passed you by. Have gratitude for even the seemingly small things, which you will realize over time are not so small. Stay out of debt as much as humanly possible; Borrow for a home, a car or education if you must, but nothing else if you can avoid it. Debt never sleeps, and interest grows without ceasing. It is a millstone around the neck.
Recognize each day for the blessing it is. Cherish your time together, and hold your children tight while you have them. One day you are rocking them to sleep as you sing a lullaby, the next you are walking them down the aisle. Time is fleeting. Never waste a moment. Love your husband, love your children, and love your life.
And as you stand in that holy place dressed in white, and you see my eyes glistening and my cheeks wet, just remember, I am a strong man who does not cry … it’s my allergies, not tears at losing you.
And to my soon-to-be son-in-law, welcome to the family. I know that you are a man of high character, strong work ethic and moral fortitude. I know that my daughter has chosen wisely. I know that you will cherish my daughter, and treat her as your queen, with the respect and devotion requisite for the mother of your children. Of this I have no doubt. But … if you don’t, then just remember what I’ve told every young man that has pursued my daughters … I have 5 acres, a shotgun, and a shovel, and neighbors that ask no questions (hey, I AM still a dad).