I was reminded the other day, by one of those friends who actually reads my blog (thanks Mark!) that I had in one of my first posts hinted, or implied, or otherwise promised that I would, when the time was right, sit down and write something about my daughter’s wedding.
The point being, perhaps, that one does not write about something like this when one is distracted by power failures and career changes; or in the spaces between business meetings and travel to meetings; or in the immediate aftermath of a divorce, especially one’s own, long-drawn out and just-finalised divorce. Nor, indeed, during one of those moments when one’s partner is having a meltdown, over love, relationships, life in two countries, and – the elephant in the room. You guess.
No, one needs, I think, a certain peace of mind, a stillness of the soul, a freedom too from the noise and disturbance and the many small pinpricks of daily intercourse, to even begin to think oneself back to the moment, the day, and all that it symbolised and meant.
Kathy and Gareth were married on the first Saturday in December, the 5th of the month; my divorce finally came though exactly two months later, on 5 February. Eileen had agreed to the settlement proposal in the week prior to the wedding; there was relief all round, I think, that this low-intensity conflict would no longer be hanging over all of our heads, when the big day came.
They had wanted a perfect, a fairytale wedding. When Gareth had come to ask me for Kathy’s hand in marriage, the Friday before I flew out to Toronto to start a three-month sabbatical, he had burst into tears before he could blurt out the words. I told him he needed to ask Kathy, not me: we spent several hours, and drank two bottles of wine, while he told me how much he loved her and what a wonderful woman she was. But, he had decided to wait until Kathy had handed in her Masters dissertation, and when I returned to South Africa, in mid-June of 2008, he still had not popped the question. Then, one day Kathy called to say they were going away to the Magaliesberg for the weekend, to celebrate Gareth’s birthday with friends; an hour or two later she called excitedly from the airport, to say that Gareth had surprised her, and they were flying alone instead, on a light aircraft, to a game farm. She still had not guessed, but I knew at once. I waited, and the next day, or perhaps it was the day after, Kathy called once more, this time to say that Gareth had proposed, and they were engaged to be married.
They had gone out for an evening game drive, and the ranger had stopped the Land Rover and got out to investigate something, signs of a poacher perhaps, and Gareth, bursting into tears again, had asked Kathy if she would marry him. It had all been arranged; it was all perfect; it was perfectly romantic, and perfectly Gareth and Kathy.
Months of preparation followed; the dress was ordered from Spain, edged in Spanish lace; the venue, up in the wine-growing hills outside Stellenbosch, with a distant view of Table Mountain, was chosen; there were dress fittings, hair dressing and make-up sessions, agonising discussions about wines and flowers and photographers and menus. Barely a month before the wedding, Gareth contracted measles, and ended up in the ICU; Kathy, alarmed, put on a brave face, and supported her husband-to-be through the ordeal until he was well enough to come home again.
Along with the main drama, a second, of lesser importance, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, but of central importance to Rob and to me, was the question of Rob’s attendance at the wedding. Kathy and Gareth had made it clear, from the outset, that Rob was part of the family and they wanted her at the wedding, but later doubts had set in, about Eileen’s likely reaction. Kathy did not want her wedding day spoiled, and it was too much of a risk, she and Gareth felt – they felt awful about it, and so, frankly, did Rob. But, it was their day, and in the end we all agreed, Rob would stay away – in fact, Rob would arrange things so that she landed in South Africa, for what was planned to be a year’s stay, on the 10th of December, in the week following Kathy and Gareth’s wedding.
All weddings, I suppose, have their moments of high drama, their elements of intrigue or unhappiness; it is never as simple a matter as a couple taking their vows.
Kathy and Gareth had asked me to make one of the speeches at their reception, and I had given it a lot of thought. Indeed, I more than once found myself in tears, whilst I was writing it; and several times on the Saturday morning of the wedding, as I read it over, I found myself choking up, and wondered how I would be able to get through it without breaking down. But in the event, it went down well. Here it is.
Kathy & Gareth’s Wedding: Stellenbosch, 5 December 2009
Welcome to all, and first and foremost, congratulations and all our love to Kathy and Gareth, the new Mr and Mrs Tjasink. [toast]
Several months ago, when Kathy and Gareth first asked me to say a few words at their wedding, I agreed at once of course – but I have to say my feelings were a little mixed. Why, you might ask. Well, first of all it was because I knew I would be giving away a daughter, and while I would also be gaining a son, I foresaw how hard it was going to be to speak at this wedding without shedding a few tears. And as a grown man, I must tell you, I hate to cry in public.
Second, my somewhat mixed feelings arose from the strict instructions, from my beloved daughter, that accompanied the invitation to speak: I was not to say anything embarrassing or out of turn. No 21st birthday stories. Well, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and in the end, after searching my conscience, and searching my still pretty functional memory, too – Kathy, there is nothing wrong with my long term memory, although short term memory can be a little dodgy at times! I can tell you that I have …. Decided to honour my daughter’s request, not to tell any embarrassing stories on her wedding day.
But I will tell you a different kind of story, if I may. It’s a fairy tale, and like most good fairy tales, it’s short and sweet. It goes like this.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Katharine Nicole Fisher. She grew up with a mommy and a daddy and a brother and a sister who all loved her very much, and when she was twelve she went to America. Everything is bigger in America, so perhaps this is why the little Kathy had such big dreams for her future, and one day she dreamed she would meet a handsome doctor and they would fall in love and be married and live happily ever after.
Of course, in these post- post-modern times, we have to tell all sides of the story – we have to acknowledge that there are multiple narratives – so I would like to think, also, that once upon a time, there was a little boy named Gareth Tjasink, who dreamed that one day he would meet the woman of his dreams, a smart, intelligent, confident and loving partner and equal, and he would recognise in her his soul-mate, and marry her, and they would live happily ever after.
And Kathy and Gareth’s mom and dad and brothers and sisters and grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and their many friends, all of whom wanted the very best for the two young people, dreamed and hoped that one day they would be invited to a wedding, and witness two bright and hopeful young souls make their vows, and enter upon a new life together.
And she did. He did. They did. We all did. Whatever.
And that might be the end of the story; except that, as we all know, it isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning.
So what, as the father of the bride – and, let us not forget, the father-in-law of the groom! – what can I possibly give them, or hope to share with them, as they start upon this new and deeply meaningful journey together?
The wedding present you’ll have to wait for – it’s safe and sound in Johannesburg, and I will bring it with me when I come round for dinner next Friday – just a reminder, in case you think I’ve forgotten.
But I have asked myself, quite seriously, whether there is any word of advice, or encouragement, or support that I should give, that I can give, without being too pompous or preachy about it.
Everyone will tell you to love one another – that you do, is very obvious to us all, and I hope that that love will continue always, and sustain you through good times and bad, and keep and protect you both for all the years to come.
Love is real, and important, fundamental in fact – but love can be fragile too, as we also know, and so, as I thought about what I might say to you, Kathy and Gareth, I wondered, what is the one thing I have learned, that I would like to share with you, and that I hope you might take to heart?
I thought of lots of things, of course; but in the end, I asked myself this simple question: what, over the years, when the first excitement passes, when children and responsibilities fill up our lives, when troubles and differences come our way, when the years pass and we are no longer as young as we used to be – what keeps love alive?
The sense that there is another human being who knows us intimately, understands our weaknesses as well as our strengths, who loves us for our flawed humanity, not our perfection, who hears us, cares for us, understands us, shares a common existence with us, is perhaps the most meaningful and spiritual and fulfilling aspect of life that we will ever know – if, indeed, we are fortunate enough to experience it at all.
And so, my one and only piece of advice, unsolicited, is this, and it is offered in all humility, and in full knowledge of my own failings: Dear Kathy and Gareth, throughout your lives, through all the years that lie ahead, all the things that will happen to you, all the things you will do and experience together as man and wife, as partners, lovers, human beings: hear one another – really open your hearts, minds, souls, to hear what the other person is saying, thinking, feeling; hear what the other person’s being and existence on this earth is crying out to share, to express, to communicate.
Or, to put it in the form of a little homily – the only homily I will offer today, I promise – seek first to understand, and then to be understood.
Even more simply and directly, as the novelist E.M. Forster – A Room with a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread – wrote a century ago: only connect.
Before I close, I would like remember those who would have loved to be here today to share this special occasion with us, but who for one reason or another were not able to come – our family friend, Mike Hanson, for instance, had booked to fly out from London, but has had to stay behind for an operation; and there are significant others, who are not here today, but send their love and best wishes. And, let me say this to my mother – mom, I know how much dad would have loved to be here today and to celebrate with us – I am sure he is here in spirit.
Let us drink a toast to dad, and to absent friends. To absent friends [toast]
I’d like to end with a special word of appreciation, and a message too, for our immediate families. First, I want to say thank you to Eileen, for bringing three wonderful children into the world, and for being a loving and nurturing mother to them all. We have a daughter here today, a beautiful and happy bride, that you should be very proud of. And I would like to say, in the same breath, to Liz and Richard, Gareth’s parents, you have brought up a wonderful son, who I know will love and cherish our daughter, as we would want her to be loved and cherished. Through Kathy and Gareth, we have all become part today of one greater family.
For Gareth’s sister Tarryn and for Eve and Jonathan I suspect this wedding today has a special and deep significance, different from but as profound as that which Eileen and I, and Liz and Richard are feeling as parents: something has changed, not only for Kathy and Gareth, but for all of us. Kathy and Gareth will always be, to us, our son or daughter, our brother or sister; but they are also something else, something more – a new primary unit, a nuclear family on their own. That is a profound change, indeed; but one we should embrace.
Lastly, I want to say how happy I am to see my sisters Laura and Dianne, and their families, and of course the Moores, here in full strength. Jenny Moore, who like Jonathan has flown in from overseas, has been like a sister to Kathy, and Sam and Anne, John and Ann, Lillian and Neville, together with their children have been part of Kathy’s growing up, and part of our family life. I’m sure you are as proud and as happy as we are, to be here today to celebrate this wedding, and to wish our young couple happiness and good fortune.
Kathy and Gareth, you are a wonderful couple, and the best and happiest years of your lives lie ahead of you. I love you both, and wish you well. May no harm befall you, and may only good come to you.
May I ask you to raise your glasses: To Kathy and Gareth. [toast]
It was, in every way, a perfect wedding. It was a moment of perfect happiness. Pride, joy, humility, gratitude – a moment to bless the universe, and thank the cosmos, for the gift of love, of family, of lives remembered and new beginnings, new promise.
The Minister, perhaps, captured something of the essence of the occasion, when he said, as he was reading the service, ‘On these occasions, it is often the case that one of the partners is here for a marriage, while the other is here for the wedding. Both Kathy and Gareth are here for the marriage.’
There was something, too, of the spirit of the occasion in the way that Eileen’s family greeted me, with warmth, affection, open-heartedness; in the way that the bridesmaids – Eve, Gareth’s sister, and Kathy’s cousin Jenny – took care of Kathy and of all of the family and guests; in the humour and teasing of the grooms; in the tears that my son, Jonathan, surreptitiously shed as Kathy took her vows.
It was Kathy’s fairytale day; and it was Gareth’s, too. Yet Rob was not forgotten. Kathy had decided to call her, from her dressing room, just before the ceremony began – but alas, although I had tried to arrange, under some pretext or other, for Rob to be on standby, she was not available when Kathy called from my Blackberry. But later, when the dancing was well under way, Kathy stepped outside, under the trees, and made the call.