No Holds Barred: To wed a daughter, to sell a kidney

The strange thing about a child getting married is that as soon as it’s announced, you have very little time to enjoy it.

Jewish wedding_521 (photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
Jewish wedding_521
(photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
My eldest daughter, Mushki, will be married in a few months, God willing. I’m surprised at how well I’m taking it, given that all my friends warned me that I would feel as if a stranger were stealing her. Luckily, she’s marrying a really great guy who makes her happy. Happier than her father? Come on, let’s not be ridiculous. But he’s a close second (I hope he’s not reading this).
The strange thing about a child getting married is that as soon as it’s announced, you have very little time to enjoy it. Immediately the wedding thrusts more work on you than an Egyptian taskmaster. There’s an engagement party to be organized in under 15 minutes. And before the hangover has even passed, your identity is entirely subsumed under the rubric of wedding organizer. You are no longer a doctor, an accountant or a rabbi. You better brush up on your impresario skills, because you’re throwing a party. A big party. You quickly adapt and become conversant in the new language of wedding halls, invitations and caterers. Like the culinary critic of The New York Times, you scout locations, trekking from ballroom to country club, tasting liver and borscht, deciding what you can afford, and checking to see what a kidney fetches on the open market.
I spent 22 years raising my daughter while my wife watched (I hope she’s not reading this, either). I still remember carrying her, as a baby, up the innumerable steps of Tintagel Castle, domicile of the legendary King Arthur, whom you discover didn’t even exist, but only after you lumber to the top. She was tiny then, and I had to handle each step with extraordinary care – made more difficult by my wife’s incessant hollering that I was crazy and what fool doesn’t know that King Arthur was a myth anyway.
Now that my daughter is big enough to handle this and other challenges on her own, I thought, having invested considerable time in shepherding her through the dating process – when she actually remembered I was a cognitive being to whom she could turn for advice, rather than just part of the furniture – I would be afforded an opportunity to enjoy the moment. She is a kallah, a bride. Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!
But no, the prophet Isaiah was right, there’s no rest for the wicked. And clearly the sin of raising a child to maturity is punished with endless labor in ensuring that we hand her off to the man who will now be the center of her life in an extraordinarily complicated rite of passage known as a wedding.
I HAVE written many columns lambasting the opulence and braggadacio of weddings and bar mitzvas that lack spiritual content. In our case, resources alone will keep us from that transgression. But even a budgeted wedding should be beautiful, at best, and respectable at least, and my wife and I, as well as the groom’s parents – really nice people whose stock has plummeted considerably as a result of this merger (a reference to me, rather than my daughter) – know enough people who “have” to be invited.
It turned out that we were extraordinarily lucky in finding loving and professional family businesses that are nursing us through the byzantine process of marriage, and are taking over the yeomen’s task of preparation. Main Event Caterers – caring and consummate people who did a stunning job at our children’s bar and bat mitzvas, and the Rockleigh Country Club – striking and elegant without being gaudy (it’s run by a wonderful Italian family that seems to know more about Orthodox Jewish weddings than most rabbis, are lifesavers, and God bless them.
Still, it seems to me that the Talmud had it right two millennia ago when it envisioned a wedding in a totally different light. A couple gets engaged. It’s their time, their celebration. So rather than having them spend all their time putting on a party for friends,friends got together and found a venue, everyone cooked a dish, and they put on the party for the bride and groom. After all, it does seem somewhat odd that the bride and groom are suddenly put under such incredible pressure to stage a celebration for their friends that they end up not enjoying their engagement, as it is taken over with guest lists, party preparation and band selection. Who are the ones getting married, anyway? And this paradox is one that affects every family, in every culture and every religion.
And while it’s too late for me and my ever-expanding impresario skills, perhaps it’s time to do things a little bit differently.
AT THIS point in the column, having alienated my wife, my future mechutanim, and by now even my own daughter, let me say something inspiring. Would that all our problems revolved around the responsibilities and pressures of joyous family occasions, and I am so grateful to God that my daughter has found a man of substance and caring to share her life with, even as he steals her from me and takes her thousands of miles away to live in a state far, far away, where I can’t interfere in their lives (I know, I’ve now alienated my future son-in-law as well, but why not be thorough?)
Still, there is a healthy middle ground. I know parents who go deeply into debt to put on a wedding that will make a lasting impression when, in reality, the only meaningful impact is the one that will be made by a man and woman who find love in an age of endemic divorce, fidelity in an age of sexual scandal, and a soulful connection in an age where the material and practical dominate.
So thank you, Lord, for the blessing of my daughter’s engagement. And while I am truly grateful, would it offend some great celestial Plan if I were to win the New York lottery?
The writer has eight other children to marry off, God willing. So would it kill you to buy his books? The author of Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life, he is about to publish Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself (Wiley). On Twitter: @RabbiShmuley.