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Father of the Bride

The lessons of fathers giving away their daughters in marriage — and bringing them into the business

George Beechener escorts daughter Diana down the aisle.

June’s not only for brides; it’s also the month for fathers of the brides. The time I’ve spent with both in recent days has advanced my thinking on both. And just in time for Father’s Day.
    When I imagined Dad and the Family Business, this week’s story for the paternal occasion, I didn’t go looking for father-daughter partnerships. Yet that’s what I found. Fathers with daughters following in their footsteps. Of the seven children in the four partnerships I chose, six were daughters. I didn’t do it deliberately, and it leaves me wondering what happened to Dad & Sons.
    But not as much as it’s set me pondering about the relationship of Dad and daughters.
    That’s a subject I can’t seem to get away from. Certainly not in the three weddings I’ve witnessed in the last four weeks, for in every one, Dad gave his daughter in marriage. Though only in one did he walk her down the aisle.
    Even that’s not quite true. Calendar editor Diana Beechener fairly danced her father down the aisle, despite his cane.
    Donald Foley brought his eldest daughter, Leigh, to her groom by boat. And Sandy McAdams used a wheelchair to present Rebecca Bean McAdams in marriage to Zachary Kirkpatrick.
    Add to those traditional and unconventional weddings the daughters, granddaughter and greatgranddaughter, Congressman Steny Hoyer introduced at his 72nd birthday bullroast June 10, and my cup runneth over. Come to think about it, I’d talked to him about fatherhood and children for a Father’s Day story a few years back [http://bayweekly.com/old-site/year03/issuexi24/leadxi24.html].
    How much experience do you — does any of us — have with fathers and daughters? We daughters have learned the roles from our fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers and godfathers. If we have daughters, there’s usually a father in the foreground or background for us to add to our comparison. If we have sons, we may get to see them raise daughters — and also watch men we know well learn to be grandfathers.
    I don’t have much. No grandfathers I ever knew. Nor uncles or brothers. Father, godfather and stepfathers, certainly, but none of them fulltime practitioners of the job. Until, that is, my father helped raise his step-granddaughter Michelle Knetzer. As our longtime outdoors columnist Bill Burton did with granddaughter Mackenzie ‘Grumpy’ Boughey, Gene Martin put his heart in the second-generation role. Even in the families of closest friends, dads sat in the backseat while mom drove the family car.
    So watching my sons’ intimacy with their daughters Elsa and Ada is new stuff for me.
    Fatherly as my sons are, they don’t say much — let alone wax poetic — on their relationships with their daughters. They leave me guessing.
    Not so the fathers I interviewed for this story, Alexander Westmoreland, Doug Sisk, Gerald Donovan and Walter Boynton. They, their daughters and sometimes their wives spoke openly and honestly about their mature relationships as they made the transition from kids to business partners.
    Words and actions spoke eloquently in the other interactions I’ve witnessed.
    Rebecca McAdams’ father did write a poem, The Dancers, for her wedding.
    Helping Leigh out of the charterboat Tuna the Tide for her wedding at The Crab Deck at Kent Narrows, Donald Foley looked like a man his daughters — Leigh and her sister Amy and stepsister Catherine — could absolutely depend on.
    Steny Hoyer, a single father since his wife Judy’s death in 1997, has many titles, achievements, colleagues and supporters. Yet as he calls his daughters around him to introduce, he seems to take part of his identity from them.
    Diana and her father danced out a different role in their walk down the aisle, as in their lives. In her flounced gown, Diana seemed a stunning hybrid of a flamenco dancer and a mermaid. The film devotee played her own story theatrically, caricaturing her daughter-knows-best role, a guiding step here, a long arm gracefully extended there, a sweet tsktsk.
    It’s a comedy the assembled wedding party could see Father and Daughter Beechener were adept at playing.
    But would he give her away to that young man, Jay Alkier III? Until it happened, none of us were quite sure.
    What we did know, however, is that his rearing allowed Diana to be completely who she is.
    All the fathers I’ve been observing told me that same thing: “I wanted her to be whatever she wanted to be.”
    Enabling that isn’t a bad description of the job of fathering daughters — or sons.