In the old days, the father of the groom and the father of the bride made a deal. If they came to an agreement, the young couple was allowed to marry. In more recent years, it is the groom himself who speaks to the bride’s father. We call that discussion “Asking for the bride’s hand in marriage.” Even that tradition has faded for many, though, and instead a bride and groom announce together they have agreed to marry.
Regardless of the father’s role in the decision, there is a tradition in our culture’s ceremony of “giving away the bride.” This act involves walking the bride down the aisle to meet her groom, then leaving her there to take the groom’s arm instead of her father’s.
The symbolism is this simple act is so beautiful, and is so often lost. We cannot underestimate, however, the role our fathers – and our father figures – have played in our lives. Many a modern bride has gotten hung up on the idea that someone is “giving them away.” Women are no longer considered property, and we tend to bristle at the idea that we would be handed from one man to another.
We must, though, recognize the man standing next to the bride, at the beginning of the aisle, for what he is: Protector, Champion, Main Man, Adorer, Super Hero, Comforter and Friend. He has been that for his daughter since the day of her birth. It is because he was all of those things that she is able to stand with him and participate in one of mankind’s oldest and most sacred ceremonies – the celebration of a marriage.
At the other end of the aisle is the man who will become for his daughter all the things that only her father has been: Protector, Champion, Main Man, Adorer, Super Hero, Comforter and Friend. The act of escorting his daughter to meet that man is an act of separation for the father, as much as it is one of cleaving for the daughter. The weight of that moment for the father must be recognized in this ceremony.
In the traditional American ceremony, there is a long period where the bride stands with her father while being addressed by the minister. The groom must wait patiently beside his groomsmen as the minister asks the bride if she comes of her own free will, and if the groom is of her own choosing. Then there is the question: “Who presents this woman to be married to this man?” At most weddings today the father will proclaim, “Her mother and I do.” It is at that point that the father leaves his daughter and sits down.
This is the moment where tradition and meaning are most often lost. It is one thing to escort his daughter up the aisle; to give her his arm as she states her wishes; to announce to the world that he and his wife proudly support this pending union. It is another thing entirely to let go of her arm and become merely an observer.
This transition should be taken very slowly during the marriage ceremony. After the father announces, “Her mother and I do,” he should take her hand, and hold it out for the groom to take. In that simple motion he is saying to those gathered that he trusts his daughter with this man, and by placing her hand in his, he is placing the responsibility for her care with him – for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health… in all of the unconditional ways the father has cared for his daughter until that time.
Once the groom has taken the father’s place beside the bride, he steps back and takes a seat on the front row. Even in the seating there is symbolism: He has become an observer, but he has not gone far.
Nearly every moment in the American wedding ceremony is a moment of intense symbolism. Understanding that symbolism makes this ceremony more meaningful for you and those watching and participating. This part – Giving Away The Bride – is a moment not to be lost.