Friday, May 28, 2010

Dinner for 35 in a strange city

My work obligations have resulted in my visits here being sporadic this week... and possibly next week, too. But, when time permits, we're telling tales here about Oldest Son's wedding.

It is not true that the father of the groom has no responsibility at a wedding. According to accepted American tradition, he has one -- and sometimes two -- very important obligations.

The one you know about -- and the one which the title of this essay suggests -- is providing the rehearsal dinner. The night before the actual ceremony, all the wedding party will usually gather in the place where the nuptials are to be celebrated, for what amounts to a walk-through. Participants are given their marks: You will stand here, you there, these two will come down the aisle first, and so on. If a religious ceremony is part of the wedding rite, the celebrant (or some designate) will skim over the liturgy itself, so that the people sitting in the front pews know when to stand or sit or, in the Catholic tradition, kneel (Catholic aerobics, some call this). Since someone in the wedding party is probably not a regular church-goer, this is not a bad idea. There is often someone looking up nervously at the ceiling, thinking the place is probably going to fall in. When I got married, one of my groomsmen was an Orthodox Jew. At the rehearsal, the priest made a good save: "Well, OK, he won't be kneeling... let's see how we can rearrange this"... and an awkward moment was avoided on the Big Day itself.

After the rehearsal, the wedding party repairs to some nearby restaurant and the father of the groom provides dinner. The rehearsal dinner isn't that hard to do where the bride and groom are from roughly the same area: Both sets of parents are likely to have enough knowledge of the place to select an appropriate venue. It gets a little harder when one is visiting the place for the first time ever... as was our situation with Oldest Son's wedding.

Back during the Christmas holidays, Oldest Son told me that my pending in-laws had a place all picked out. All I'd have to do would be to call and make the arrangements. It was agreed that we shouldn't mention that this was for a wedding rehearsal; the fear was that the restaurant would jack up the price.

There is nothing I hate more than calling strangers on the telephone. I don't much care for calling people that I do know on the telephone either, not unless I know that they are waiting for my call. I've been the unwilling recipient of far too many unwanted or inconveniently-timed phone calls. (Caller ID and voice mail are really wonderful inventions in my estimation.)

But I was obliged to overcome my reservations due the the persistent entreaties of Oldest Son (who was presumably catching heat from his fiance and her parents). Some time in mid-February, I called. I put a deposit on my credit card. I agreed to set a menu at some undefined point in the future. In the meantime, my pending in-laws went back to the restaurant and sent me a menu.

We didn't communicate directly, mind you. I didn't even meet the bride's mother until the rehearsal. (We were supposed to meet at the shower my wife threw for the happy couple; for why that didn't work out, read this.) But the menu was duly delivered to my office by Oldest Son.

And every item on the menu included mushrooms.

Now, mushrooms and I have never gotten along. Since my insides were removed, I have scrupulously avoided contact with mushrooms on all occasions. So I can't say for certain what they might do to me now. I can say, however, that Older Daughter is downright allergic to the things, complete with swelling and hives and all sorts of other unattractive responses. We simply aren't foodies in my family. Oldest Son may be the pickiest eater among us -- and Long Suffering Spouse is certainly the healthiest -- but none of us can claim a particularly adventurous palate.

Looking at the menu, I found myself thinking of Eric Idle in the Monty Python Spam Cafe sketch.

Eventually, we found a couple of items that didn't have too much spam, er, mushroom in it; my son's fiancee had helpfully marked items that she and her family particularly liked and I finally called the restaurant back. We needed four items -- voila! two from each list.

This was a couple of weeks ago.

The nice events coordinator at the restaurant had begun to think the place might be able to keep my deposit without hearing further from us. But we had a pleasant conversation and she said all my choices sounded "perfect" and she even promised to eliminate the mushrooms entirely from the two largely mushroom-free entrees I'd selected. We also figured out a method for limiting the bar tab to a reasonable amount.

I was particularly worried about the bar tab because this dinner, unlike most, would feature a lot of 20-something guests -- not just the wedding party, but the bridal couple's college friends. We broadened the usual invite list for this event to include all the out-of-town guests; thankfully, not all of them took us up on the invite.

It's not just that I'm cheap -- at the moment, I'm also broke.

All my slow-paying clients have become non-paying. My few good-paying clients have gone slow. Thus, I don't have May's mortgage paid, or the last installment of Youngest Son's tuition, and I'm doing the minimum payment dance on the credit cards. If I were as hard-eyed and practical as I claim to be, I would have sent Oldest Son a nice card and told him to have a good time... without me. But how often does a kid get married?

We'll get through this or we won't, but in the meantime we needed to fulfill our obligation.

And the dinner itself did go well. My little speech was well-received... mostly because it was very short... and everyone seemed to have a good time. My credit card went through without incident. And we only had to walk a block or two back to the hotel. In fact, if the hotel pool had been open when we came out of the restaurant, we wouldn't have had to walk that far. And the party continued in our room and in another room down the hall.

Things didn't get really weird until Shrek and Donkey arrived. But that's a different story.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Meantime, I know I mentioned that there were two possible duties assigned to the father of the groom and I realize I've only mentioned one.

The other possible duty is for the father to rent a tuxedo.

As an inducement to the groom, many rental places offer a 'free' tux after a certain number of rentals. In my day, I guess the magic number was four. Either that or I simply chose not to resist when my father asked me please don't force him to wear a tux. He promised to wear a nice suit instead.

In Oldest Son's case, the magic number may have been five. Like me, he had four groomsmen, but he asked me to rent a tux anyway. I didn't fuss about it; it was one less thing to pack (I could be fitted for the thing a Men's Warehouse near my home and he could pick it up in Texas -- Older Daughter and her husband did the same thing at their wedding). Or, maybe, he just doesn't like my suits.

Anyway, as far as I know, the rehearsal dinner and, sometimes, wearing a tux describes the entire universe of responsibilities for the father of an American groom. Do you know of any others?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For more wedding-related reading, see:
Apparently, I didn't finish writing about Older Daughter's wedding. Which, on the one hand, is good because there's guaranteed new material, then, for the book, right? On the other hand, it augers poorly for my ever finishing this round of stories....

And, speaking of incomplete efforts, here's a post from 2006 wherein I described how... and why... Long Suffering Spouse and I moved up our wedding date. I promised to write about our honeymoon trip to Mexico, but never quite did. Perhaps some day I will.

If you've read any of my travel posts, though, you'll know it won't be about how easy everything was, or how smooth....


Jean-Luc Picard said...

O love mushrooms! Glad to read all those older posts.

Dave said...

"There is nothing I hate more than calling strangers on the telephone. I don't much care for calling people I know on the telephone either, not unless I know that they are waiting for my call."

I don't like calling even if....

Cathy said...

I hate the telephone. Period. I want to throw it out the window and never see it again for as long as I live. I particularly hate it when people call and don't say anything.."Hi, it's me" and then silence. I want to hang up on them. First, I want to remove their voice box.

I was 3 posts behind here. Had to take the time at 2:30am and catch up. I remembered that you didn't finish blogging about oldest daughters wedding. You just got busy and new things to write about came along.

I love reading your stories. Just don't ever call me on the phone.

Ellee Seymour said...

I like these traditions, but our weddings in the UK do not include them. Most people do not hire tuxedos and are less formally dressed, and there is no family dinner after the rehearsal, though this sounds a great idea. I imagine you are a very proud dad! I would like to hear about your honeymoon trip to Mexico one day too.

sari said...

My husband hates talking on the phone, too. Or at least he does when it requires us calling for takeout. Maybe that's a coincidence? I don't know.