I like to think that I’m quite good at speaking in front of people. After all, it is something I do most days. Talking in front of a group of thirty-two pupils daily, however, is very different to presenting to a large group of your peers, your friends and your loved ones. I am not saying I couldn’t do it, I am certain that I could.
I did it at your funeral, remember?
It’s that awful feeling you get leading up to it: the churning of your stomach, the sickness making you feel dizzy, light-headed and not truly in the moment and then there is the fact that it’s all you think about before you stand to make your introduction to your awaiting audience.
I don’t want those feelings.
Not at my wedding and I hope you understand.
Months ago, when the wedding planning stages were in their infancy, I had the idea that I would write something, hide it in my dress pocket and ta-da! I would suddenly magically produce it from the pocket, stand up and present it to my captive audience from where I stood in the centre of the top table. On lookers would smile and remember you with a fondness, Mum would look on at me proudly as I spoke with confidence and without wavering, Rob would roll his eyes willing me to finish and I would say all the things I want to say about missing you on one of the most important days of my life. I would talk about how proud you would be of your grandchildren and if only you had met them because they would love you so much. I would speak of Mum and how, at low parts of her life, she refused to be beaten down. I would explain the many ways in which you and Rob are similar but so different in others (he supports Barnsley FC, I know someone has to) and how I saw him in a whole new light on the day he became a Dad for the first time.
I would be sentimental, funny, nostalgic and celebratory and I would make it through my speech without once stumbling on my words and without any tears.
That’s what I thought I could do six months ago.
As it turns out, with only three days to go, I can’t do it and I don’t want to do it.
Allow me to try and explain why. It may sound heartless; bear with me though as I am anything but.
This one day is about me.
Your funeral gave me the opportunity to stand up and talk about the most important man in my life: you. It was all about you, so understandably it felt right to talk about you and the father you were.
I don’t want you to be one of the main topics of conversation at my wedding because what will it only serve to remind me of? The fact that you’re not here.
Let me make myself clear. You are never far from my thoughts and you know I speak about you often. Over the last few weeks, you have been at the forefront of my mind despite my constantly trying to keep you at the back of it.
That’s not very a very nice thing to do, is it?
But, I have reason.
It’s those damned floodgates, you see. I fear that if they open, I will struggle to close them. I know they didn’t open at your funeral and my only suggestion as to why is that I was all cried out and still in some state of shock that my father had been taken away from me when he was still so young.
My friends keep asking me if I am excited about my wedding and I am but I have also told them that I just want it to be over. That, I can guarantee you, is not true. Having waited ten years to finally marry the father of my children, I do not want the day to be over. I want to enjoy it. However, there’s this thing lurking silently in the pit of my stomach just waiting for Saturday morning to arrive before it can leap out and paralyse me with nerves, anxiety and a deep feeling of loss. I think the thing lurking is the thought of you and your absence.
Last week, while out shopping, Mum hooked her arm into mine and told me she was looking forward to the weekend and was starting to get ‘a bit giddy’. I wanted to get giddy with her and yet instead I unhooked my arm and told her I was feeling so very apprehensive about the imminent Big Day.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that it’s very ungrateful and ungracious of me and you would be right. After everything she has done for me and my family, I was throwing her excitement and her generosity back in her face.
Here comes my attempt at justification. Shortly before hooking her arm through mine, Mum had told me that she had found and washed an old blue and white (LUFC colours, obviously) handkerchief of yours. She had been using it while pressing some trousers and it was clean and ironed and ready to be my something old, something borrowed and something blue and it could hide secretly away in my dress pocket.
I felt the flood gates unlock then.
It was a beautifully simple suggestion. No one would know and I would have something of yours. But, I don’t want something of yours. I want you.
I am not a religious person but I do put my faith and my belief in that there is something greater than all of us. I have to believe this because if there is nothing after we die, then where are you now? And it’s for that reason that I chose to get married in a church. However, it’s the church ceremony that, over anything, even the poor weather forecast, that I am fearing. Fearing my wedding ceremony. Can you hear that? That’s horrible isn’t it? I’ve picked the flowers, the hymns and asked for the bell ringers. It’s sure to be beautiful (and chaotic with nineteen children in attendance) but I am fearing it.
Because, no matter how hard I try to push you to the back of my mind I know I won’t be able to. Standing outside that church with just me and Mum is where I am going to miss you more than I have probably ever missed you since the day you left us. I’ll see you in Mum’s eyes as she too tries to not think about how her husband isn’t here to walk his only child down the aisle and I will feel it as she takes my arm to walk me down the aisle. Every child hates to see their parents cry and as a parent myself, I know how much it pains me to see my children cry when they are genuinely heartbroken, in pain and distress.
With you in our minds, we will both be trying not to cry and if one of us utters your name, the floodgates will come crashing open.
I don’t want look heart-broken as I walk down the aisle and I think that’s why I am choosing to explain this to you now because if I speak about you on Saturday afternoon standing outside the church then my heart will be broken.
If, however, I think about you and make sure you remain firmly in my thoughts throughout the day then perhaps my heart will only be bruised a little and we can all smile through a little bit of pain, can’t we?
I hope you understand.
I also hope you enjoy the day, Dad, where ever you are (or when ever – I haven’t ruled out time-travel as an after-life possibility yet.) Be happy in the knowledge that I am marrying into a good and kind family; a family who have looked after me like their own for the past ten years. Your grandchildren could not be more loved. And Rob, well, like I said earlier, he is very similar to you. He likes being at home (getting him to a family party is a nightmare), he loves to watch sport (shame about the football team though), he is quiet (unless he has had a drink), he doesn’t let me get away with anything but he supports me, cares for me and offers advice when needed (often with the lines ‘who cares what anyone else thinks’), but above all, he is a fantastic Dad.
Just like you.