When a father ‘gives away’ his daughter on her wedding day, the emotions for both are a mixture of joy and sadness, as it’s a symbolic ending.
A BRIDE takes her father’s arm and walks up the aisle towards her husband-to-be. Nothing can compare for drama, emotion and meaning. It’s a pivotal, iconic moment when a dad gives his daughter away, when she steps towards her new life.
“It’s a defining moment, where he realises his child is gone — the adult is taking centre stage,” says couples counsellor, Lisa O’Hara. “She’s walking into her new life and he’s accompanying her to the threshold and that’s where he stops, and there is a stepping-away and she takes the arm of her husband-to-be.”
Owen Connolly, a counselling psychologist, says the dad/daughter walk up the aisle is a significant journey. “The dad’s role in every little girl’s life is to build the foundation of who she is. He makes her his little princess. He invests in her a sense of her value, her gifts. She is special in his eyes. He is preparing her to be future queen in a new relationship. This moment, this passage up the aisle, is when he hands her over — it’s a very meaningful departure.”
Somewhere in the dad’s awareness will be all the other walks he took with his daughter — of her skipping along beside him, a chattering four-year-old bouncing a ball, of holding her hand as she crossed a busy road towards school. So there’s a grief, a sense of loss. “Suddenly, his little girl is grown-up and going off with someone else,” Connolly says.
But there’s also pride, and O’Hara says the journey up the aisle is “a privilege for the father, a recognition of his status as a father — he was the first male love of his daughter’s life”. The father-daughter relationship is unique and primal, she says. “Walking up the aisle together is so important, because it represents the power of that relationship.”
O’Hara says the bride also has a mix of emotions. “If she has a good relationship with her dad, this moment, when he witnesses her transition to a new life, is very exciting. It’s a vulnerable time for her, but if she has a supportive dad he will help her relax and stay in the moment — she has the support of her father, on whose arm she rests as she walks beside him up to the point where she takes the arm of another.”
For the daughter, it is important that her dad approves of her choice of husband, says Connolly. “Often, the man she has chosen will be modelled on the relationship she has already had with her dad. His qualities, character, the way he has demonstrated his manliness, his demonstration of being a good husband to the girl’s mother — somewhere deep in the daughter is a desire to be in a relationship with someone like dad.”
Connolly says people underestimate the value of dads to their daughters. “His role is to establish security in his daughter, so that she will be able to select the right kind of candidate as a husband.”
The walk up the aisle is a transition. The father is giving his daughter away. “Even though the daughter isn’t leaving her family of origin, she is creating a new family unit,” says O’Hara. And marriage changes things. “When you get married, you take on your own, plus the collective and cultural expectations of marriage. It does change things.”
It would be good, says O’Hara, if, just before the bride’s first step on that journey up the aisle, she stopped and took in the moment, how she is, because as she walks her life is changing.
Jacqueline Brookes, 26, married Peter at St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal, in August, 2013. She had always dreamed of the moment when her dad, Jack Hornibrook, would give her away.
“I know it’s very old-fashioned, but it’s the iconic moment of the wedding. Peter asked my dad, before he asked me to marry him. I appreciated that and so did Dad. We’re old-fashioned like that.
“I was nervous about it, about physically walking down the aisle — what if I fell over? We arrived later than I’d meant to. We were in this really cool, old American car from the 1950s. Dad was so taken with it — he was all chat with the guy who owned it. He held my hand from the moment we got into the car. At the church, he looked at me and said ‘you know, I adore you and I’m so proud of you’. I reminded him that I would always be his baby girl. I have a really close relationship with my dad. I have him wrapped around my little finger — I was seven or eight when my youngest sister was born. Just before we started [walking up the aisle], I said to Dad ‘I’m not ready’. He just grabbed my hand and said, ‘You are, you’re fine, you look beautiful, come on’. He just gave me a kiss and kept smiling at me.
“When my first sister got married, we had to remind Dad she wasn’t dying. I don’t know if ‘giving away’ is the best term. It makes it seem so final — I’ll always be his little girl. I said to him: ‘you’re not losing a daughter, you’re gaining a son’.”
Jack says Jacqueline was his baby for eight years. “She came after two other daughters. I had a very close relationship with her. Giving her away wasn’t easy. We were in this beautiful, old, US sedan car. It was making an awful racket. I said I hoped it would get us there. [That I was giving her away] didn’t hit me until the car pulled up to the church. I realised that was it. It’s hard to accept the handing-over. I suppose I shed a few tears.
“She stopped at the bottom of the aisle and I said ‘oops’. I said to her ‘come on, let’s get going’. I gave her a little push and away we went. I knew she was well capable, she was always very definite. I was happy about Peter, the guy she was marrying. They’ve known each other for years. When it was over, I was very happy. It was lovely to meet the two as a married couple. All fathers would love to see their daughter married before they themselves pass away.”
Elaine Shine, 32, married Niall McDonagh in July, in St Patrick’s Church, Millstreet, Cork — her dad, Michael Shine, gave her away.
“I’d really looked forward to that moment [walking down the aisle]. I’m the only girl — I have two brothers. As a child, your wedding day is something you always dream of.
“Dad and I sat into the wedding car and we both got nervous. It was just me, my dad and the driver. We were talking about our dogs — we’re dog mad! I said to Dad ‘I’m a bit nervous’. He said ‘you’re grand, you’re grand’. He was a bit nervous, too. We just got out and got on with it.
“It’s a long aisle, a long way up to the top. Just the idea of the crowd looking down made me feel a bit overcome. Afterwards, the walk didn’t feel that long. Dad gave me a kiss on the cheek, handed me over to Niall and shook hands with him. I felt emotional, but happy. I’d say Dad was relieved his job was over.
“It’s a special honour [to have your dad give you away], but I didn’t see it as ‘giving away’. It’s just the process you go through when you get married. It didn’t feel like I was leaving Dad behind. I know Niall so long, he’s part of the family.”
Michael says it’s a big moment, giving your daughter away. “As a father, you’d be lonesome — she’s going off to live her own life, but there were no tears. It wouldn’t affect me like that at all. I’d be a bit shy in public. I was thinking: ‘what if I make a slip’? In the end, you just pretend the crowd isn’t there.
“It was Elaine’s day. I just helped her along as best I could. I felt happy she had met a great man. That eased everything. I knew he’ll look after her well and provide for her.”
Xposé presenter Glenda Gilson, 33, married Rob Macnaughton in August, at St Senan’s Church, Kilrush. “When we got engaged, the only thing I found I was really getting emotional about was the thought of Dad [Noel Gilson] walking me down the aisle. I’m the only daughter. I get on so well with my dad. I always have.
“The trip in the car was a bit of fun. We laughed on the way. Dad and I don’t wait for the big moments in my life for him to tell me what he feels about me or me him. [At the bottom of the church] a woman said to Dad ‘are you the father of the bride?’ He said ‘I am, love’. She said, ‘God, you’re handsome’.
“Dad says I brought him up the aisle, I was walking so fast. But it took a lot out of me. When I got five steps away from Rob, I had a spasm in my right cheek, but nobody saw it. This shake came on me. Dad asked ‘Glenda, are you alright?’ The minute I got to Rob, there wasn’t a bother on me.
“When somebody talks about Dad ‘giving me away’, that upsets me. I’ll always be daddy’s girl — he’s never letting go of me. And Rob is very much part of my family. Mum, Dad and my brother love him.”
Noel says: “Coming from a family of only boys, it was something I’d have thought about — how would it be when Glenda decided to get married? It was a great occasion and a little bit sad — that she had sort of flown the nest. Going up the aisle, there was a lump in my throat — this is Glenda gone. But it didn’t really feel like I was giving her away. Since she married, she’s in our house a couple of times a week. I always knew she’d do that. She’s living just half an hour from us. I was very proud on her wedding day and I always have been, all her life. She has always made me proud of everything she has done.”
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