A Bride in Reverse: On the Eve of My Daughter's Wedding


   On the eve of my daughter’s wedding, an image comes to my mind. It’s a self portrait of sorts, a negative, a bride in reverse. Instead of white, she is wearing black.  The dress is strapless and beaded, with a sweetheart neck, a corseted waist and layers of crinoline flowing to the floor. She’s a doyenne, with red lips and kohl lined eyes, her black hair rolled and folded tightly into place with pearls. She is la mere, la madre, ema, and she stands before her daughter in this irror of time and sees who once was herself. 


     My daughter is getting married in less than ten days.  Even after writing these words, they still feel like fiction.  Several friends of mine have been advising me to steel myself for what I will be feeling on that night.

     “Be prepared,” one friend warned, moving in close to me as if revealing a deep dark secret. “You’re going to be jealous of your daughter at her wedding.”

      “I will?” I asked genuinely surprised.

     “All mothers are,” she said conspiratorially. “It’s so hard for us. Here we are growing old, losing our looks, and there’s our daughter. Looking so young, so beautiful with her whole life in front of her, the man of her dreams, there waiting for her, like the handsome prince in the fairy tales.”

     “Thanks for the warning,” I said, thinking but not saying aloud, But I don’t feel that way about Ali at all.


     Still that conversation stayed with me, as other women told me similar things about the way they felt at their daughters’ weddings.  I thought too about the hidden meaning of so many fairy tales.   Could it be that I harbored a deep resentment of my daughter’s youth and beauty like the wicked step mothers in those ancient stories?   Bruno Bettleheim had written that those “step mothers” were really surrogates for the actual mother and that the stories themselves were teaching young women how to deal with the natural jealously felt by their aging mothers towards them.

     I spent the next several weeks interrogating myself, rooting through my memories for  blind spots, sniffing out twinges of jealousy  - but coming up blank.

     Perhaps I was in denial, I thought, remembering the envy I’d felt when Ali and I would go clothes shopping and she could fit into a perfect size 0 - me feeling fat and old,  looking at her with her flat belly, flawless ivory skin, dark hair flowing perfectly over creamy white shoulders.

     But that was about it, I thought. We’d weathered the tumultuous years of teenage tantrums that accompany the mother-daughter power struggles and we’d actually come out of it on the other side as friends. We'd become fierce admirers of the other’s accomplishments, with a deep appreciation for each other's kind, empathetic and ethical qualities. She had long ago stopped protesting when someone said, “You’re just like your mother.”  In fact, in recent years, she'd  sometimes even demur and reply, “Thank you.”

     So I was really taken aback when my husband sent me that email last week – the one that contained the link to the song he was going to use for the Daddy-Daughter dance at the wedding.   Within seconds of opening the link and listening to the song, I found myself weeping.

                        * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

     My father was not at my wedding. We had already become estranged, an estrangement that was to last until the end of his life. I was walked down the aisle, sandwiched between my mother and her second husband, a prideful and volatile man who didn’t like me very much, but insisted on making his presence felt at my wedding. My mother, always one to “keep the peace” did not protest.


      And as I listened to this song, sung by a man to his daughter on her wedding day, telling her beautiful she is, how he’s always loved her, how even though he prepared for this day, he still can’t believe that it’s finally come, that his little girl is now someone’s wife and how he’ll love her forever – I found inside of me the jealousy I hadn’t wanted to believe was there.

      No man had ever held me in his arms, looked at my young eager face with pure love and adoration and pledged to love me forever. No man had  ever told me that I would always be his chersihed little girl. Not at my wedding. Not ever.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
      At my daughter’s wedding next week, the doyenne in the black dress will be there, the matron in the mirror of time, the bride in reverse.

      I am the mother of the bride this time. And on that night, I will stand on the sidelines and watch my daughter dance with my husband of thirty-four years.

      And instead of jealousy, I will experience a secret sense of pride and triumphant joy, because I will know that I gave her something I never had.


      I picked THIS good man to be her daddy.



A Song for My Daughter by Ray Allaire

Ali and her daddy dancing in 1993.

A Song For My Daughter by Ray Allaire

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