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A Father’s Long-Awaited Walk

bouquet of roses foreground, out-of-focus outdoor wedding setup in the background

I am looking forward to spending some time with the family this weekend, including a nice walk with my wife and our older daughter on Saturday evening.

It won’t be a very long walk – maybe 20 or 30 yards across the grounds of a New Jersey mansion, which is a little out of the ordinary for us. Also out of the ordinary: the 150 relatives and friends who will witness our walk, and the young man waiting at the end to receive the daughter we are “giving away,” in the time-honored if archaic wedding tradition.

What will I think about as we walk, besides trying not to stumble or sneeze during the 30 seconds of responsibility I have been assigned for the evening? Maybe the 1986 New York Mets will cross my mind. With all due respect to the “miracle” team of ’69, they were the best team ever to play home games in Flushing. As a newborn that summer of 1986, my daughter would lie on my stomach and watch the games with me. She seemed fascinated by the sight of that impossibly green grass on the TV screen. I swear, by autumn the baby would open her mouth and silently mimic the chant of “Let’s Go Mets” – although there is a slight chance it was just gas escaping.

I might also think of the night 14 years later when the Mets were in another World Series, this time with the crosstown Yankees, and we attended a game together. It was the last game of the last World Series the Mets played at Shea Stadium. My daughter was not the most avid sports fan, but she enjoyed the companionship as we took in the electric atmosphere together. She rested her head consolingly on my shoulder as the Yankees took the lead in the top of the ninth on Luis Sojo’s base hit, and leaned forward hopefully along with me a half-inning later as Bernie Williams tracked down Mike Piazza’s deep fly ball to send us home.

I could recall the long car rides to Georgia at the beginning and end of each of her college terms. We looked forward to those 14-hour voyages as a time to catch up with one another. By that time I received information on a strictly need-to-know basis. “Dad, if anything’s wrong I promise I’ll tell you about it,” she informed me as we headed for her sophomore year. “Otherwise just assume everything’s OK.”

As a high school freshman, my daughter signed up for an organization called Midnight Run, which delivered clothing and hot food to homeless people on New York City streets. Their faculty adviser cautioned the students that the idea was not just to give handouts but also to see the people they serve as human beings. “If you haven’t had a conversation by the end of the night, you haven’t really done Midnight Run,” she told the teens at the start of our first run, which I attended as chauffeur of the family minivan.

A couple of hours later I watched as my sheltered, suburban child parked herself on a cold Manhattan sidewalk and listened to a homeless man tell her about his life. From her expression you would have thought there was no more important lecture to be heard anywhere in the city. This scene gave me one of my first glimpses of the adult she would grow up to be. Today, our bride-to-be makes her living listening to people; she is a practicing psychologist. She spent her first three years after college working as a “mental health aide,” which is what they call orderlies today, in a psychiatric hospital for children. Some of those children were 10 years old, or even younger. Think for a minute how profoundly troubled a child has to be in order to be hospitalized at such an early age. After watching her do this difficult job for three years at around $12 an hour, I was confident my daughter had found her calling when she announced that she wanted to get her doctorate.

Along the way she also found a new passion in electronic dance music, or EDM. That, in turn, led her directly to the groom at tomorrow’s wedding. During college my daughter began attending EDM festivals around the country. Many of these are multiday affairs that involve camping in sometimes-muddy fields, trading souvenirs and listening to hour upon hour of music played by big-name performers and even bigger-name DJs. One of the biggest of these festivals is Ultra, in Miami. That was where she met her future husband several years ago.

My soon-to-be son-in-law has more than musical taste in common with my daughter. Like her, he is a medical professional, in his case a nurse practitioner. They both have a passion for travel, and he completed the work I started with the Mets so long ago. I was amazed last year when my daughter, who had never displayed the slightest interest in football, explained the Philadelphia Eagles draft picks to me at great length. Yes, he is an Eagles fan, which creates no small set of complications in our family. But he’s a fine young man anyway and, for a certain bride, an ideal soulmate, so we give him a little room for nonconformity.

I am ready to hand over my daughter to her husband tomorrow night. It’s been a long journey to take a few steps down that aisle. I’ll try not to stumble, but I know we raised a daughter who can handle it if I do.

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