LIKE MANY BRIDES, ON THE MORNING OF MY WEDDING, IN APRIL 2019, I WAS CAUGHT UP IN A FLURRY OF EXCITEMENT AND ACTIVITY – and it mostly centred around women: me, my mum and my bridesmaids dashing across town in taxis to the hair salon and getting our make-up done whilst sipping glasses of Buck’s Fizz. But whilst all this prep and pampering was going on, there was one key person quietly waiting in the wings to play a vital role – my dad. And from the minute my mum pinned his bright red gerbera buttonhole onto his grey three-piece suit, he didn’t let me down. The photographs and video of the day are full of lovely ‘Dad moments’: him carrying my train as we arrived at the venue; the pride on his face as we walked down the aisle; him listening intently to the vows, beaming from ear to ear as my new husband and I shared our ‘just-married’ kiss, and roaring with laughter at the speeches; our not-quite-in-time father-daughter dance to My Girl.
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And as much as I appreciated these moments on the day itself, they have taken on a deeper, bittersweet significance this past year, because two years after walking me down the aisle, my beloved dad passed away. He had been unwell for several years, but the shock still blindsided me: I really thought we would have more time. And whilst I had, of course, understood from childhood (on some level) that my dad wouldn’t always be here, his mortality was too big a concept for me to truly process, even when he became seriously ill. I simply couldn’t imagine a world that didn’t have him in it. So the months since his death have been a difficult and confusing journey looping through numbness, grief, denial and a sense of unreality. But throughout it all, I have been incredibly grateful for one thing: that he lived to be at my wedding, to walk me down the aisle and to see me happily settled with a man he loved.
It’s a huge comfort to me, and to my mum (I have no siblings), that we have so many wonderful pictures, and memories, of him looking so happy that day. I have always been equally close to both my parents, but I am, without question, most like my dad. We shared the same temperament, humour and love of books… not to mention the Johnson nose and unruly curls. When I was a little girl, we were partners in all kinds of adventures, from reading Swallows And Amazons and the Famous Five stories, to making snow igloos in the garden. To me, back then, he was a real-life superhero and larger than life – there was nothing he couldn’t do, nothing he didn’t know, and no problem he couldn’t fix.
As I got older, his wisdom and his jokes got me through exam stress, job interviews and romantic disasters. He was always the first person I wanted to share my successes with, and the first person I called when I needed a pep talk in times of crisis or disappointment. Whatever I was doing in my life, I knew that, just like my mum, my dad was right behind me – cheering me on, believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and giving his unwavering support. And that didn’t change when I got engaged, on my 38th birthday, in June 2015. In theory, my dad was a tricky potential father-in-law for anyone to impress – after all, I was his only child – but he trusted and adored Eddy (who mostly goes by his surname) pretty much from the start. So when, after nine years, my soon-to-be fiancé phoned him to do the traditional thing of ‘asking permission to propose’, my dad was absolutely thrilled.
I don’t think I was ever surprised that he liked Eddy (most people do!), but I was always really touched by just how much he loved him – I knew that he didn’t have any doubts or reservations at all. Both before and after our wedding, he often told me what a good man I had, and how he couldn’t have chosen better for me himself. As he said in his speech, ‘I always said that the man Laura married didn’t have to love her more than I do, but he had to love her just as much.’ With Eddy, he knew that standard had been met, and that I would be in safe hands.
Now that he’s no longer with us, it’s incredibly comforting for me (and for my mum) to know that he felt that way. In terms of practical wedding-planning stuff, my dad wouldn’t have been hugely interested in the finer details of flowers or cakes (he was an old-school Yorkshireman!), but he was, nevertheless, incredibly influential in helping us create our perfect day. He helped financially (without us asking, and with no caveats about what we did or who we invited – something we were extremely grateful for, knowing that not every couple is so lucky), helped spray-paint 120 toy cats for place settings, talked me out of a serious meltdown when Eddy and I were stuck on the motorway and late for setting up the venue, and didn’t even bat an eyelid when I asked him to walk me down the aisle to the Pet Shop Boys. He wasn’t at all well in the run-up to the wedding, and he wasn’t well after it, but you would never have known – my mum tells me he got through the weekend purely on adrenaline.
Two years later, at his funeral, the vicar told me how excited my dad had been about walking me down the aisle, how often he’d mentioned it to her, and how determined he had been to make it to the wedding. I think the photographs of the day are testament to how much it meant to him to be there – and how much it meant to me that he was. On the morning of our big day, I gave him a card, in which I wrote: ‘Thank you for everything. Let’s go and make an entrance!’ and a silver keyring engraved with the words: ‘Dad, you might be giving me away today, but I’ll always be your little girl.’ After the wedding, he and my mum hung the keyring just inside their front door, so that visitors would see it. It’s still there, and those words are still true. When my dad passed away, a lot of people told me how proud he was of me – and now this, like the eulogy I gave at the funeral, is my chance to say how proud I was of him. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model, a better mentor or a better friend – and I was lucky to have him at my wedding, and in the first 40 years of my life. I still can’t quite believe that he isn’t here anymore, but I do believe he’s watching over me.
In our last conversation before he passed away, he told me that I would feel his hand on my head, guiding me through life, and I have chosen to believe that I will. So I like to think that he knows I’m writing this – and that, somewhere in the stars, he’s smiling. As you set about planning your dream wedding, it’s so easy to get caught up in all the gowns and girliness, the hen party and the heels, and in finding the perfect outfits for your bridesmaids and your mum. But if you’re lucky enough to have a dad (or someone who’s like a dad to you) who’s standing by to advise, help or support you and your partner on your wedding day and in your future lives together, don’t wait for the speeches – raise a toast to say, ‘Thank you, Dad’, now.