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Father of the Bride

A loving dad reflects on "letting go" of his baby girl on her wedding day.

Father and daughter

Why was I being so sentimental about my daughter getting married? I wondered. Kate was a mature, responsible young woman, a 21-year-old college graduate. But every time I looked at her after her engagement, I turned into a sap!

I saw the little girl who had always snuggled up next to me when I read The House at Pooh Corner to her, the same kid who yelled, "Don't let go!" when I taught her to ride a two-wheeler.

Now she and her mother were caught up in her endless wedding plans. They talked about canapés and flowers. And all I wished was to hear her say again, "Don't let go."

Instead she gave me my own assignment for the festivities: "Dad, will you burn some CDs for the reception? You're so good at picking music," she said.

"Sure, sweetie," I said. I had tons of music on my hard drive and on my shelves—good for background or dancing. But that caused another dilemma: What would I pick for that one moment when it would be just Kate and me—the dance for the bride and her father?

I stared at the shelves and scrolled down through long lists, then I closed my eyes. The right song, the perfect song, came to me. I could remember when we first heard it, sitting in a darkened movie theater.

Kate thought she was too old and grown-up for Disney back then—a too-cool 13-year-old who wanted pictures of stars on her bedroom walls instead of cute puppy posters.

We were surprised that she'd even consider coming to the movies with us instead of hanging out with her friends. But Toy Story 2 was enough of a lure.

The girl in the movie, Emily, was also a teenager. She was getting rid of all of the toy horses on her dresser, replacing them with makeup and nail polish, covering her walls with rock-star posters. Boy, did that sound familiar!

But then a moment occurs. The cast-aside cowgirl doll sings "When She Loved Me," and the tune hit me to the core. Something about that scene captured just how I was feeling—how any parent feels when a child grows up. 

You want your child to move on and become independent—it's only natural—and yet you still long for those moments when they say, "Don't let go."

I didn't tell Kate what I had chosen for our dance together. I wasn't even sure she had remembered anything about Toy Story 2.

Standing next to her in the back of the church before her nuptials, I was so proud! My little girl was absolutely beautiful, her long red curls cascading to her shoulders. God, I prayed, I hope she's ready for this next big step. She slipped her arm through mine and I escorted her down the aisle.

Later, at the reception, I barely had a chance to talk to my daughter, there were so many people. The first moment we had together was when it was time for the dances. The bride and groom, their eyes locked on each other's, danced that first dance to a big round of applause.

Then it was my turn. I stepped forward and the music began with the cowgirl's song. Kate's eyes glistened. She smiled big, I think to stop herself from crying. 

"You know, Dad," she whispered, "this song will always remind me of you." I put my arm around her waist. She took my hand and rested her head on my chest.

In my mind I heard a little girl's voice say, "Don't let go!" No, I would never completely let go. Love, I've found, does not work that way. Love holds on.

I heard myself humming along with the words of the song: I will always love you. Then all too soon the dance was over. The wedding crowd gave us a standing ovation.

I gave my daughter a big hug, and then I let her go.

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