Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Q & A: Wedding Tradition of "Giving Away" the Bride

Reader Question: I have a topic that I would love to get your insight on. My dad has asked if he could walk me down the aisle and give me away. For starters, my fiancĂ© and I weren’t planning to have an aisle and secondly and more importantly, I find the tradition of “giving someone away” archaic. However, my dad would really like to have a part in the wedding. Any thoughts on how we could incorporate my father (and possibly mother, father-in-law, and mother-in-law) into the beginning of our ceremony? We are not religious. Also, we don’t think he’d like to give a long speech. Any thoughts?

Sometimes I get questions and I immediately want to punt them to our brilliant readers. This question is really hard!

I actually think the best way to solve this problem is to sit down with your family and chat about it. I think you should share your vision for your wedding (e.g., no aisle and no archaic traditions), as well as your desire to honor and involve them in some way. Then you can break out the chart paper, tape it to the wall, and record everyone's ideas. There's nothing like a good old fashioned brainstorm to get people involved and let their voices be heard! Seriously, this kind of collaboration generates some great ideas.

If you want a few ideas to bring to the discussion with your family, here's what I've got:
  1. In our own ceremony, I said, "We would like to thank our families who have nurtured our independence..." and Matt finished the sentence with, "and put up with our quirkiness." We then walked into the audience and hugged our moms and dads (you could also give them a flower or some other token of appreciation). Then Matt said, "We would also like to thank each other's families for welcoming us so kindly..." and I finished the sentence with, "and for putting up with our quirkiness." We again walked into the audience, this time hugging our in-laws. You can read the whole ceremony here.
  2. If you change your mind about the aisle idea, you could have both parents walk you down, and your fiance could have his/her parents walk him/her down.
  3. You could invite them to do a reading or play some other integral role in the ceremony (like bringing forth the rings if you choose to do a ring exchange).
Hmm...I think my brainstorm is quickly becoming a light sprinkle....it's time to open it up to other ideas!

I will say, however, that I love the idea of creating our ceremonies and our weddings on our own terms. We don't have to follow the same script that we have all seen played out in weddings so many times (although we can if we want to!). That's the whole point. We can choose to adhere to traditions, we can modify them, we can throw them out, or we can create new ones. And we can do a combination of all four things!

I will also say that sometimes it makes sense to compromise and do something you might not want to do, in order to honor a family member. You have to be careful going down this path because it can snowball and your wedding can quickly become someone else's, but compromise can be good.

Insightful and smart readers, what are your ideas?

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Anonymous said...

I'M SO GLAD YOU POSTED ABOUT THIS! this is such a touchy subject and the only one i'm nervous about! regarding this, i think she should just let him give her away. if that's all he wants, then it probably won't make much of a difference in the long run, except to him. if that is absolutely undoable, then maybe he can do a short reading about love or giving his daughter away (my FIL is going to read an excerpt from Tuesdays With Morrie so he's involved.)

i seriously need opinions. i'm not super close to my dad (for various reasons, two being he's not the best role model and didn't raise me). i'm actually way closer to my boss (who doesn't have any children), and have been for 3 years. i would like both of them to walk me down the aisle, with my boss sitting down right before we get up to my fiance, and my dad officially giving me away. that way, both of the men in my life are honored.

is this just plain mean? if so, why? and how do i go about asking my dad? i was thinking about just telling him, and reminding him that he has the opportunity to give his other daughter away, but my boss will never get walk with someone...if i play the sympathy card, maybe he won't be so offended? ::sigh:: toughy.

Anonymous said...

In a traditional wedding, after the father escorts the bride down the aisle, the pastor asks, "Who gives this woman to be married?" and he says, "I do." I'm definitely not comfortable with the patriarchal overtones of that (though I have asked my father to walk me down the aisle because he is a wonderful, sentimental man who loves me and it will be a beautiful, touching moment). Instead, we're going to have both my parents answer the question, and then the same question will be asked to both the groom's parents. Our families are bh very important to us, and we want to publicly acknowledge the roles they've played in getting us to this point and the fact that they do bless and embrace this union.

Anonymous said...

I love what you and Matt did! That's so cute!! It is a little hard to offer advice because our ceremony is a spiritual one in a church (with a nice mix of jewish, catholic and baptist practices thrown in) but I can tell you what I'm doing. My dad is escorting me down the aisle. Because I want him to. He's not "giving me away". He's walking with me. And we're working on something for our minister to say along the lines of "You are all here today because you have loved and encouraged G and Roxanne. Do you promise to continue to do so as they walk their path of life?" (or something..you get the point) and everyone will say we do.

I like using readings and such to get people involved too. We're considering doing communion, breaking bread and possibly sharing it with our parents. Or just each other, we aren't sure yet.

But I think sitting down and coming up with things that make people feel involved is the best. Because something you might consider trivial might be a real honor to them.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm not even engaged yet, but it's coming sooner rather than later and I've been a loyal reader for a while. Anyway, I've always liked the idea of trying to get my parents involved in ways that are very specific to them. I know everyone in the DIY wedding arena always talks about having someone bake something if they're good at it or arrange flowers or whatever, but I want to find ways to bring it into the meat of the wedding too - the ceremony itself. For instance, my mom is a voracious knitter, so I could have her make a knitted flower for my hair or a bunch for a bouquet or a shrug or even a wall hanging that we could stand infront of during the ceremony. And my dad is a musician so he could play the music that we all gather and take our places to, whether that's walking down an isle or gathering into a circle or whatever the formation may be.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the aisle idea either; what about doing more of a gathering? For instance, instead of an aisle have both families enter either opposite one another (if there are say doors on either side) or enter the wedding space together with you and your fiance and gather with you in front of the presider. Then you could have the presider begin with a line or two about how today two families are joined or some recognition of how your families are important because of they have fostered you into the people you are. Then your families could be nicely dismissed to their seats. This would make so much more sense if I could draw it out :)

Anonymous said...

I am now the mother of a wonderful bride, but I relate to this question from the perspective of my own wedding.
I got married in 1981, having fully rebelled against many of the traditions during the 60s. I gave in to my mother's notions about our wedding to some extent because she was paying and planning, and I was out of town, advising and approving by phone. However the ceremony was ours, and we each chose to have both our parents walk us up the aisle (even though my divorced parents weren't completely civil to each other at the time).
My take on it is not that they were "giving us away". Rather, it was a statement that family is important to us and that we COME FROM these families and were moving forward in our process of creating a new one of our own.
We each kissed our parents "goodbye" and they sat down, and when I joined my husband-to-be at the front, it was with all of our siblings, whom we love, who stood around us and ushered us into the next phase of our life. (Yes, we'd already been living together, but you all know marriage is somehow different).
It seems to me that if you honor the sacrifices and gifts that your parents gave, whether directly or genetically, no matter the pains and emotions of your past, it is nice to honor them with a role of some sort, or a recognition. I don't think it matters so much whether it's walking up the aisle or some other creative recognition, but the fact is, you are leaving your parents behind in a very real sense. Your relationship with them is changing, and isn't a wedding all about symbolism anyway?
It is definitely stickier when there are divorces, step-parents, in-fighting, etc. but there are always new ways to handle things (it's been so fun for me to read about and live vicariously on this and other blogs).
I think a lot of what we remember about weddings years later is the emotion, the feeling, the faces, even more than the actual content. I unfortunately remember pretty clearly the disagreements I had with my mom during wedding planning, and the spat I had with my dad just before the ceremony. Those are the things that mar my memories, whereas the flowers that were accidentally stored in the freezer instead of the fridge has just become a funny story.

CaitStClair said...

The best I can do here is offer up what we'll be doing.
I will be escorted up by both of my parents who will stop at the end of the chairs and then I'll go the last little way by myself.

I figure it's a pretty good representation of my life. For the majority of it I was under my parent's protection but then went out on my own for a bit and now my future husband and I will go the rest of the way together.

Good luck finding out what works for you! I would suggest keeping in mind your dad's feelings. I'm guessing it's the only part of the wedding he's super attached to. A little effort to accomodate him could go a long ways.

Anonymous said...

I just talked to my dad about this last night! My dad's reasons for wanting to walk with me were:
1. It's a way to welcome my FH to the family.
2. It's a way to show how special I am to him.
3. It's tradition.

I don't personally see how walking with me welcomes FH, but I suppose that's beside the point, since it makes sense to dad.

I did asked around at offbeatbride, and most people there linked walking very much with being given away, even if there wasn't "giving away" language in the ceremony. We're thinking of the ceremony very much as a way to join our two families, not just the two of us. (It's always seemed strange to me that there's suddenly a new person in your family, whether you like it or not.)

So, my answers to my dad's points were:
1. I'm thinking the ceremony will include something like, in addition to asking, "do you, bride, take this groom?" asking "do you, bride's family, take this groom?"
2. We'd like dad (and many others) to give a toast.
3. This tradition smacks of misogyny and I can't support it.

It didn't go over 100%, but I think he's ok with it.

Becca said...

In the Jewish tradition, the bride and groom are walked down the aisle by their respective sets of parents. It's not about being given away nor is it a father-daughter ownership thing - it's about each moving from one phase of life into the next with the blessing of your parents. And I'm very comfortable with the egalitarian-ness and the symbolism of it (though in traditional orthodox Judaism, there really isn't much egalitarianism in the ceremony, but that's a different issue altogether.)

Something like this might work for you - it honors both families and even gets to involve your FH's family more than the "standard" western wedding. We might ask them to leave us slightly before the Chuppah, so we can enter together, as ceremonial indication of our free will in choosing to be joined.

Beth said...

A friend of mine, several years ago, had both of her parents walk her down the aisle. I remember how the three of them looked--like they were about to smile and cry at the same time. Her parents looked so proud and happy I thought they would bust. I've always thought it was a nice way to enter the ceremony--not being "given away" but escorted into the next phase of life by the people who brought you into it in the first place.

For me, I'll be on my own. My mom is too elderly to walk down the aisle and my father is no longer with us. But I'll pretend they are walking with me.

Anonymous said...

I'm admittedly rather traditional, and so some of the ideas on this blog aren't for me-- but that's the point of 2000 dollar wedding, right? We can make our weddings our own, based on who we are as a couple.

Anyways, I did have my father walk me down the aisle, and it is one of my most cherished memories. I don't look at him "giving me away" as an ownership issue. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that my amazing father raised me and taught me everything I know about love. He walked me to the brink of starting my own family, and watched as I vowed to put everything I learned from my parents into practice on this new journey.

Lisa said...

I think (as Sara often says on here) it has to be completely about what you want and how you want your wedding and ceremony to look. My dad is walking me down the aisle at our wedding, but we both agree the notion that he is "giving me" away to my husband is archaic and goes against the independent person he raised be to be. But, I like the notion of him being with me in those first moments, helping me to laugh so I don't burst into tears and helping me to prevent tripping over myself. Those are my reasons for keeping that tradition.

We are also avoiding bridal parties and instead incoporating our family members by having our siblings do readings and my future father-in-law became an officiant online so he can perform the ceremony. There are all sorts of ways to incorporate those you love and who are most important to you. Screw any tradition that makes you uncomfortable, not matter what people say, and go with whatever feels natural and best for the both of you!

the petermanns said...

at a recent wedding that i attended, all of the parents (there were six, since the bride's parents were bothr remarried) stood in a "huddle" around the bride and groom during the first musical piece. they talked quietly to one another and there were many smiles, tears and hugs at the end of the song - at which point the parents returned to their seats.

Anonymous said...

This is timely as I am about to go home for a planning visit and this was one of the topics I wanted to talk to my parents about. We were thinking of more of a gathering idea, but it's really important to me to honor their place in my life. If it turns out to be important to him, I'm happy to work it out so that it can happen, but I also gave myself away a long time ago to my FH.

A couple of ideas I'm toying with:
my parents and FIL participate in a ring-warming ; they each say something personal or some lesson about marriage ; my parents both escort me ; we include some language in the ceremony such as "Your families walked you to the brink of starting your own family, and watch as you vow to put everything you learned from your families into practice on this new journey." (Anonymous - I'm stealing it because it's just beautiful."

love-v said...

I too was having a rough time with this. In traditional Lithuanian weddings the bride and groom escort each other down the aisle.

When I talked to my dad he had assumed that he would be walking me down the aisle something along the lines of "that's my job." We have never been close and have butted heads on too many occasions. In order to feel a balance and to include my dad (it would gravely hurt his feelings to exclude him) I am going to include my mom. I know that she won't be able to hold herself together if she sees me walking toward her. The only way I can walk with my dad is to have my mom on my other arm.

I am however, considering going the traditional Lithuanian approach or a melding of the two and meeting my groom halfway. I think that could be a good compromise. We are coming into this union equally and together, that sentiment is what I want.

Eco Yogini said...

This came up with my dad too- he's very traditional and i often tease him that's how I became a feminist! lol.

I know it would hurt him so badly if i said he couldn't walk me down the aisle, so i am not about to even bring up that option. I was thinking more along the lines of instead of him "giving me away", he will "present" me. No wording or response answer from the minister/person (not sure about that yet either) and also not sure on how to get mom involved.

But I like thinking of it, and labeling it as being presented, as opposed to "given" away. And dad has already stated that he's not "giving" me, but that he's "lending" me.... sigh. oh traditional dad. I love him- what can i do? lol.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

I'm of a similar mind to Becca.

We are actually having our parents ask us our vows. That is to say, his parents will ask me "do you take," etc, and my parents will ask him. It's sort of their last parental act, showing that they approve of us. His parents will then know that I will take care of him and my parents will know he will take care of me. We are planning on both changing our last name to a new name, showing that we are starting our own family together. We're walking down the "aisle" together, our parents will already be there.
So, there's a take on it. It's less them giving us away and more them 'letting go' as we, I don't know, fly from the nests. I didn't know how to say that without sounding really cheesy, sorry. :D

CheapAndEasy said...

I had a hard time with this as well. I had a tough time with the "giving away" part of the whole deal. Plus, I'm not very close with my dad & I thought if I walked myself down the aisle, it would take care of the sticky "dad or step-dad" situation. However, my FH pointed out that my step dad is a huge part of our lives & that he thought his feelings would be hurt. That cinched it. Avoiding an uncomfortable situation with my biological dad isn't worth hurting the man that was much more of a father.

I've gotten over the whole "giving away" thing. I think of it more as he is giving his blessing to the union. We are actually thinking of keeping the traditional "who gives this women to be married to this man?" thing & have my step dad say "well, she does, of course"!

Avril said...

Though this view may not match Sara's or that of many readers, I think there are some situations in which the bride needs to give up the notion of "MY special day, with everything the way [my partner and] I want it." This is one of them. Your dad may really need this gesture to provide closure, since to him your wedding may signify the moment you leave his household to start a new one. If this is absolutely in direct contradiction to your core beliefs about marriage, then sure, don't do it. Otherwise, why not? A little bit of unselfishness could go a long way here, and your dad will always be grateful for it.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Avril: I definitely agree with the idea of compromising in order to respect and appreciate the people who are close to you. That's what I meant by: "Sometimes it makes sense to compromise and do something you might not want to do, in order to honor a family member."

And I definitely don't ever want to seem like an advocate for selfish brides who must have everything their way or else.

When I argue that our weddings should reflect ourselves and our partners, it comes from the perspective of seeing too many people wishing their weddings were over and done with because someone else took it over and crafted the wedding of their dreams.

When I hear parents clamoring for an active role in the ceremony, I think, "In that situation, I would probably compromise in order to honor family members who are important to me." When I hear parents clamoring for a fancier dinner because they think it's more respectful to guests or arguing that you have to have a cake cutting ceremony or else it's not a real wedding, I think, "Whose wedding is this anyway? You already had a chance to plan a wedding that reflects you! Now give your children the same freedom."

But that's just my perspective. It stems from my values and my willingness to go my own way, even against my family's wishes (e.g., vegetarianism, working in the non-profit sector, etc.).

Avril, I truly appreciate your perspective. I think these kinds of critical conversations are very helpful. So thank you!

Happy Thursday,


Kaitlin Wainwright said...

Well, you weren't planning on having an aisle. I would say, don't make it about your relationship with your father so much as about the logistics of the whole situations.

My father & I are in a huge dispute right now, and while I don't really want him to give me away (because I think that idea is downright archaic), it's a lot easier for me to play the "the most naturally occuring path for the wedding party to walk down is not that stable, nor that wide" card. It's also *completely* true.

Put emphasis on how you want him to be involved, rather than how you don't want him involved, no matter what steps you take. It'll make the situation all the easier for him to swallow (and really, keeping people happy is a hard task in wedding planning. Harumph!)

Hannah said...

Man, this post sparked some seriously long comments!!

I go for #2
"If you change your mind about the aisle idea, you could have both parents walk you down, and your fiance could have his/her parents walk him/her down."

Amber said...

We had a circle with 2 aisles (think cross) and got married in the middle surrounded by our friends and family. My dad walked me in, but didn't give me away... and him and my mother rang a huge bell as a moment of reflection near the end of the ceremony.

Emily SW said...

I have been to many weddings of friends where their parents gave a 'parental blessing,' which gave their parents a chance to participate meaningfully, to declare their love for the couple/give advice/read a blessing/reminisce, whatever.
We're planning to do this at our wedding, as well. Our parents are receptive and interested in the idea. I suspect that this will inject a little humor into the ceremony as well, b/c it gives parents a chance to show their personality.
Also, we plan walk down the aisle (each separately) with both of our parents.

Charlotte said...

It meant more to my dad to escort me than any objections on my part. I'm glad I did it. He didn't "give me away" and when asked who presents these two to be married we had everyone present say "we do!" so it was more about support than anything else.

That moment, when all eyes were on the two of us, my father was near tears he was so happy and proud. I'm glad I could give that to him.

I think we get so wrapped up in the symbolism (veils for virginity, rice for fecundity, etc) that we forget that sometimes it's just about 15 seconds of fame and recognition. The bride gets so much, it's nice to share a bit with dad.

I will finally add that my FIL was in a wheelchair and seated early so our procession was:
flowergirl and ring bearer
my mother and stepfather
my husband and his mother
me and my father

Clearly there was no implication of "giving away" here, just escorts. IMHO best of both worlds!

Leah said...

Since when did 'archaic' come to mean 'bad'? It basically just means 'old'.

Keep in mind your wedding day is not just about you. It's also about your family. Until this point (the last 25 years? 30? 35?) you have been part of a family. They have invested heavily in you. It wouldn't be fair to ditch their desires now.

alexa said...

Our father is dead, and our brother walked my sister down the aisle, and shook hands with our BiL at the end.

I'll probably do this too, more as a "welcome to the family" gesture, rather than the ownership thing-- it is very clear that I'm the one giving myself!

I'd thought about walking with FH, but I think it is important to involve my brother, and that this is a good role for him! (My sisters will be my Maid & Matron of Honor).

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