A Wedding Isn't Really About the Money

Physician's Money Digest, November30 2003, Volume 10, Issue 22

Father of the Bride

In the extremely successful movie, , Steve Martin plays the hapless and clueless father who painfully watches as the light of his life, his only daughter, formally transfers her affection to her new husband. Throughout the movie, he is asked to keep "his mouth shut and his wallet open."

There is more than a kernel of truth to this scenario. Fathers of the bride, and mothers of the bride, are getting pushed out of the planning of their children's weddings. The kids are getting married at a later age, when they have distinct ideas and values, and they want to be the planners of their wedding. The parents are asked to be no more than financial sponsors of this key moment in the lives of 2 families.

A certain friction—sometimes comical and sometimes painful—can result. But it doesn't have to happen this way. I recently experienced the wedding of my only daughter. A bit of planning made it a meaningful experience for all. Therefore, I give you "Constan's Rules for Having a Happy Modern Wedding":

1. Establish ground rules ahead of time

This isn't so hard with the long courtships of today. Couples commonly go together for several years before they tie the knot. My daughter was smitten with her young man, Tucker, 4 years before the wedding. Consequently, her mother and I had plenty of time to discuss with her our values regarding relationships and weddings. We tried to make the point that the wedding was a formal union of 2 families, that it was a way to cement relationships and set the stage for a lifetime of living as a couple. The formality, we felt, was hugely important. As a modern girl, she did not initially see the value of such rituals. The relationship with her beloved was what was important, not some boring formality steeped in meaningless tradition.

Then it happened. He proposed, she agreed, and everything changed. She decided she wanted a big wedding and we would spend a year planning it. Everything had to be perfect. By the way, dad, it's going to be really, really expensive. You love me enough to give me carte blanche, don't you? At this point, it was time to gain control of the discussion.

As it happened, we had an opportunity. The fiancé was active in the military, off on the other side of the world defending "freedom's frontier." During his leave, we took our daughter on a little vacation, where we relaxed and discussed the values of weddings. The discussion started out as a classic battle of wills, hers against her mother's. But I persevered and made my points about the symbolism of the special event.

"Okay, dad, you've made your point," she said, "Now let's discuss the dress, food, venue, invite list, and budget." This leads to the next rule.

2. Get money out of the picture early

During the trip, we managed to establish a very tentative budget for the event. But fate intervened. Because of the complications of planning a wedding during wartime, we received, in late September, an interesting phone call from our daughter.

"Mom, dad, we just decided that it was too difficult to plan a wedding next July because we don't know where Tucker will be then. Therefore, we're going to get married in 2 weeks in Nashville. Okay?"

(A very long, silent pause)

"Okay, sweetheart. What do you want us to do?"

"Oh, nothing, Tucker and I will plan everything, you just have to pay for it."

(Another silence)

"Sure, honey."

The next few days were interesting. Every night when I came home from work, I'd find my wife on the phone with our daughter. Both our cell phones were ringing with calls from family and friends who wanted to know what was happening. There was considerable friction with our daughter. "You mean you want to spend $7 for a chocolate-dipped strawberry? Are you crazy?" It was a chaotic time. There was only 1 solution.

"Honey, we trust you, you know our feelings about the wedding. We want it to be a significant family event, and we don't want it to be about the money. We're going to mail you a very generous check, and you can spend it any way you want."

3. Enjoy the event

With money out of the way, my wife and I were free to focus on making the whole affair meaningful.

Smooth Preparations

My wife devoted her time to making sure that everyone in the family knew what was going on (the exact date, place, and time of the wedding kept changing) and that their personal needs were met. She had some great plans. As guests arrived at the hotel, which started 2 days before the wedding, there was someone stationed in the lobby to greet them and give them printouts of the latest information. We passed around cell phone numbers. Each morning, we congregated in the breakfast area of the hotel and organized the day.

I devoted my time to a pet project. Not knowing much about the technical aspects of the wedding dress, cake, and decorations, I knew I loved computer technology. So I spent my time figuring out how to use technology to make the wedding more meaningful. I had 2 innovations I wanted to institute into modern weddings.

Preserving Memories

The final result:

First was getting a slide show organized on the computer. I scanned some of our daughter's old photos so I could show them at the wedding. I called the father of the groom and convinced him to do the same thing with his son's old photos. We were able to enjoy these wonderful memories at the rehearsal dinner and at the wedding reception with our old and new family members and friends.

The second innovation dealt with the wedding photos. I realized that everyone nowadays has digital cameras and would be taking pictures. Why couldn't we get them all together for everyone to enjoy? After the wedding, I borrowed everyone's flash cards from their cameras and downloaded them onto my laptop, eventually making a CD-Rom with over 500 photos of the event to be passed around and copied for everyone to enjoy.

Beautiful Day for All

Our daughter and her fiancé came through. They knew what we expected, what they wanted, and what their friends would enjoy, and managed to make sure everyone had some aspect of the wedding experience that was meaningful for them.

Take my advice, don't be a Steve Martin at your child's wedding. The event is too important to be left to chance. Figure out what's important to you and your spouse well in advance of the wedding. Then, with some judicious planning, an effort to take the focus off the price tag, and some adult-to-adult talks, you can have the time of your life.

Louis L. Constan, a family practice physician in Saginaw, Mich, is the editor of the Saginaw County Medical Society Bulletin and Michigan Family Practice. He welcomes questions or comments at 3350 Shattuck Road, Saginaw, MI 48603; 989-792-1899; or louisconstan@hotmail.com