Everybody knows what the Mother of the Bride’s job is at a wedding, more or less, but how many people know or understand the role of the Father of the Bride (FoB)? Some dads think it’s their job to write checks and show up dressed as instructed in the right place at the right time. Some fathers get more involved in the planning and help make the event happen, especially in the case of DIY weddings.
But that’s not the traditional role of the FoB. And it’s very interesting to examine how the part that dad plays came into being by looking at the origins of the traditions. Why, in a day where both men and women are defined as equal, is it supposed to be the father who walks his daughter down the aisle and is the one to “give her away?” Why does the priest often ask “Who gives this woman to be married?” Where did this possession of the daughter come from?
Tradition often plays a huge role in the production of a wedding; however, many times we do not know where exactly these traditions originated. Looking back to the roots of the institution of marriage itself and the role a father once played in his daughter’s life, we can unveil (figuratively), the answers to these questions.
Many women often talk about how they have dreamed for years about their fathers walking them down the aisle. Today, a father walking his daughter down the aisle is often a reflection of the relationship between the bride and her father, and also signifies the father’s support and blessing of the impending marriage. However, this was not always the case.
The tradition of a father walking his daughter down the aisle dates back to a time of arranged marriages. At this time, unwed daughters were considered property of their fathers. In this instance, a father would arrange a marriage for his daughter with a man who he deemed acceptable. This was done through an agreement and/or trade: a dowry. The father would accept some form of money, land, and/or social status, in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. She was his property. He was, in effect, selling her.
The tradition of being walked down the aisle has changed in recent years. Many brides choose to walk with both parents or another person who has supported them throughout their lives. A few go it alone. While arranged marriages are no longer the rule, the tradition has turned into one more representative of the significance of whomever is the special person walking the bride down the aisle. As a result, it’s created a more personalized experience with a whole new meaning. It’s the bride’s choice.
Another question I explored was why the Officiant asks “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” The father of the bride is supposed to stand up and say that he does. This is what it means to “give the bride away,” dating back to the times when the daughter was seen as property of her father’s. The Officiant would ask this question in order to validate that the father was, in fact, agreeing to the terms that he and the groom (or groom’s family) had made, and therefore was in support of the marriage. The bride would then be exchanged from being her father’s property to being the groom’s property.
More recently, the popular response to the question “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” is “Her mother and I do.” Interestingly, most of the time, it’s still the father who gives the verbal permission. Sometimes, both the father and the mother may stand up and say “We do” together.
Some brides and grooms do not feel the formal permission is necessary or appropriate for their ceremony and leave it out. It can be interpreted as objectifying the bride – an archaic tradition of the past that no longer represents what is really occurring. A marriage is an act of love rather than that of a business exchange.
As women’s roles have changed throughout society, so have many marital traditions. Many of us often do not question these practices. Yet when we truly delve into it, we get a better understanding as to what exactly we are participating in and how we can make it a more personalized and representative experience for ourselves.
Liz Cooney, Intern at Weddings in Vieques