giving away

“Who gives this woman to be wedded to this man?”

And the bride’s father responds: “I do.”

It’s still a tradition in many weddings, and yet rarely would the bride’s life reflect that her father had control over her. By the time most of us are engaged, we have our own apartment, our own bank accounts, our own social life. We usually meet and date our groom for some time before he’s introduced to our father, and yet we still ask that our father claim ownership of us and our relationship on our wedding day.

I left the lines out of the ceremony draft I gave to my officiant. I’ve seen some ceremonies modify the moment by asking “Who supports this marriage?” to give the father the opportunity to say “I do” or “Her mother and I,” but that didn’t feel right either. They certainly aren’t the only ones in attendance who support the marriage; our hope is the entire room would want to shout, “We do!”

At the rehearsal, the officiant asked “Do you want your father to give you away? It’s not in my notes.”

I hesitated before responding, “I’m not really his to give,” and immediately hear my sister’s hiss: “Kate! You have to! It’s tradition!”

Everyone discussed alternatives while I struggled with the question of tradition. In some areas, I fall into the category of traditional. Not tradition as a habit, but tradition as a cultivation of memory and faith, tradition as ritual and reminder. But in this case, my mind was reeling: what do we do with traditions that no longer serve us, that no longer reflect our reality or our values? How can we honor the past while shaping the content to call into question our assumptions about that tradition? How can we maintain the form while presenting the altered truth?

The next night my father walked me down the aisle. We paused to give me time to kiss my mom, took a few more steps, and stood for the musician’s final chords.

“Who gives this woman to be wedded to this man?”

“She gives herself freely, with our blessing.”

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