Two Tips for Young Dads in June

For Father’s Day, here are a couple morsels of hard-won wisdom for all you young dads out there.

“Wedding” (photo: kath_arina / Pixabay/CC0)

“Women are the only realists; their whole object in life is to pit their realism against the extravagant, excessive, and occasionally drunken idealism of men.” —G.K. Chesterton

It’s wedding season, and bells are chiming out all over the place. We’ve already RSVP’d for two nuptial celebrations this month, and there’s another in July. Of course, these days it’s just my wife, Nancy, and me slipping into the back pews (groom side? bride?) and sniffling at the vows. Our kids are older now — some away from home on their own and the rest, well, just not into dress-up events that don’t involve close family members. No matter. Truth is, most of the time they’re not invited anyway — and, frankly, they often weren’t invited in days past, even when we brought ’em along anyway. (More on that later.)

June is also Father’s Day season, so best wishes to all you dads out there — especially the new ones. You’re tired, bewildered, and wondering if you’re doing anything right. Congratulations! Join the club! The next round’s on me!

In fact, tell you what I’m going to do. Better than a beer, how about a couple morsels of hard-won wedding wisdom for all you young dads out there? Sound good? Read on!

Tip #1: Look at how wedding invitations are addressed

When a wedding invitation comes in the mail, and before you (or your spouse) pitch the envelope, examine it closely — that is, examine how it’s addressed. Believe me, it matters. In fact, I wouldn’t throw it away at all until the wedding is history. You may need it for verification when the day actually arrives.

Seriously? Seriously.

Look, when we were first married, I hadn’t gone to a lot of weddings on my own, and even when I did, I certainly wouldn’t have thought about protocols, customs and traditions. I just showed up more or less on time (and more or less presentable), made a nuisance of myself at the reception and got a free meal out of the deal. Sound like you? Ah, those were the days — feckless, dopey, stumbling along as life awkwardly unfolded like a used Iowa road map from AAA.

Now you’ve got a family, though. Now it’s different. Now you’ll not only be accompanying your wife to the ceremony (sit up, stay awake — at least don’t snore!), but you might have young kids in tow. Notice that “might” there? I put it in italics so you wouldn’t miss it, because going to a wedding isn’t like going to Sunday Mass. Weddings are by invitation only, and your clue to who’s invited is that envelope that you’re going to examine (and keep).

Is it addressed to just you and your wife? If so, that means the bride and groom are gently requesting that you leave your kids at home — probably for reception cost containment and logistics, and not because they think your kids are obnoxious (even if they are). So, aside from babes in arms, get a babysitter for the young’uns — unless the invitation was addressed to you, your wife, “and family.”

Again, I’ve italicized the essential elements for you. 

I learned this lesson the hard way, and only very late. When we were newly married, and God was generously blessing us with Ben, then Joan, then the other five who followed, we would bring everybody to every wedding. More than once — more than a few times, I’m afraid — I recall Nancy murmuring (as we were dolling up any number of kids before our inevitable late departure for the exchange-of-vows event), “Are you sure we’re all invited? Did the invitation say ‘and family?’”

“Don’t know,” I’d shrug as I tied a shoelace, wiped a nose. “I’m sure it’s fine — we’re a family!”

Of course, the impact of bringing extra, uninvited souls to a wedding was lost on me because, well, I’m a guy and a pretty uncouth one at that — something that time and experience have only slightly ameliorated, I’m afraid. But aside from my uncouth-ness, I routinely dismissed the possibility that the kids weren’t invited because I myself could not separate my fatherly identity from the kids who made it possible — who gave it concrete expression. I was a dad, after all, because of these very urchins scrambling around, and if the bride and groom wanted me at their nuptials, well, they were going to get all of me!

I know better now, thanks to Nancy — and some pretty uncomfortable receptions where servers had to scramble for extra chairs, and wedding guests had to cozy up at their tables to make room for me and my contraband brood. But is there some grace here? I meant well, and I based my attendance assumptions on what I took to be a shared vision of the integral connection between weddings and fecundity. I mean, if there’s any venue in which children should be especially welcome, it’s a wedding ceremony, right? Can you think of a better way to spotlight what the wedding’s ultimately all about than by planting a wriggling, noisy “supreme gift” (GS 50) or two — or three, or five — in a pew on the main aisle? I can’t.

Even so, it wasn’t my choice to make, and I sincerely regret the many (oh, so many) times the Beckers showed up in force with unanticipated booster seats and diaper bags — despite my wife’s efforts to temper my familial enthusiasms.

Which leads to my next morsel of free advice…

Tip #2: Listen to your wife

That’s it, lads. I wish somebody had said that to me when I got married — or sometime soon thereafter, especially when we started having kids. There’s little else that will contribute more to your marital bliss and domestic tranquility. Listen to her, really listen — regarding wedding invitations, your children and everything else.

You won’t regret it. Seriously.