Father of the Bride Toast 2 — Heidel-McFadden Wedding Reception

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Heidel-McFadden Wedding Reception
Historic Fairfax County Courthouse
August 17, 2013

Good evening.

I trust and hope everyone is enjoying their meal having a good time.

Alice and I are happy to welcome you, and grateful for your participation in this joyful happy celebration of Allie’s marriage to Kenneth.

This week and at other times, I have thought about Monica, St. Augustine’s mother. Augustine was reputed to be a godless rogue in his youth. Monica was respected as a godly, tireless, stormer of heaven’s gates as she faithfully, over many years prayed that God would mercifully capture, constrain, and conform Augustine to the image and character of Christ — which in time He did. And to no meager result.

Well, I must admit I am no match for Monica in exercise of prayer. Allie’s mom — Lovely and Heroic Alice is a far worthier example. But, I can honestly tell you I have prayed through the years for my children to be captured, constrained and conformed as Trophies of God’s grace, and in due season to be matched in marriage with another of Christ’s Trophies.

I also know ones of you in this room who have labored in prayer for such an outcome among Alice’s and my children. And, I suspect that many of you I may not know well have done similarly.

Well, look what God has done as we have prayed!

This meal, our enjoyment of it, our laughter, our song, our dance, our happiness, our toasts, our hopeful anticipation for them, and our memories of the day in weeks, months and years to come are culminating tokens of the thankfulness that fills us for what God has done.

Kenneth and Allie, we raise our glasses to you both. God bless and keep you. God look upon you with favor. Laugh often. Love each other deeply. Make your home courageously and fearlessly, double check your pitons, and pack your own parachutes, but remember that mountain climbing and sky-diving can lead to higher insurance premiums. And, don’t forget to call your mothers.

Spare Not the Rods — Fishing and Other Capon Musings

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For several years, we have vacationed in West Virginia, at a location beloved by my wife’s mom and dad, which was the venue for their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration in 1994. That year was our first visit, and we celebrated the occasion with my wife’s sisters and their families. We look forward to these annual reunions, and make the trek each summer (July usually), to rejoin the extended family bunch. My wife, our four daughters, two sons-in-law, four sons, one daughter-in-law, one grandson, my sister, my wife’s mother and three sisters, and their families, and not infrequently a family guest or three. Our destination is down in a secluded “holler” with (to the surprise of the uninitiated) many conveniences and amenities: golf course, hiking trails, swimming (the spring-fed pool is filled with near glacier run-off), good roads for cycling, an adequately stocked pond (bring your own rods, or borrow a bamboo “fish-catcher” at the desk), cool sleeping weather, and good food served family-style three times a day.

It is not impossible to communicate with me while I’m there, but as I begin my break from work, I like to tell my colleagues that while I’ll be in the continental U.S., I may be hard to reach. I tell them the internet runs on “bobbed-war,” and the phone’s a party line up a pole (picture Olivaaaah on Green Acres) where messages can be taken, wrapped around a rock and dropped down to the runner. Any messages brought down from the pole will be removed from their rocks and posted on a whiteboard just inside the dining room. I try to remember to look for my messages three times a day, but only after I dine. Perhaps a slight exaggeration. Oddly enough, they seldom attempt to reach me. If absolutely necessary, I can hike up the first fairway and “summit” the first green where, having climbed to sufficient elevation I just might receive a faint T-Mobile signal. I get a signal boost if I remove and raise the flag stick real high in my off-hand.

It’s an out of the way place we enjoy very much.

Speaking of meals, there are usually 20-25 people at our table for meals. We enjoy lots of good food. The litany below is what comes to mind as I write. At breakfast, eggs any style (two poached soft on toast is my regular), double and triple bowls of oatmeal and seven-grain cereal, buckwheat flap jacks, rashers of bacon, sausage patties and links. For lunch, wonderful salads, watercress with piquant dressing, spaghetti with meat sauce, silver-dollar burgers with grilled onions, Sunday duck and turkey. For dinner, more salads, iridescent roast beef, fried chicken, meat loaf, the fried fish-pork combo, fresh baked rolls and fresh vegetables. Desserts include Whitehouse cherry ice-cream, fresh watermelon wedges, cantaloupe with a scoop of lime sherbet, vanilla ice-cream with chocolate sauce, gingerbread cake with whipped cream.

In the dining room, the waitresses all wear white outfits, and rush around with great precision and efficiency, pushing brushed steel carts loaded with the day’s meal offering. They remind me of nurses in a 1950’s movie, rushing patient gurneys from the ER into the operating room. All food is served on indestructible pastel colored melamine plates, and bowls. The ceiling fans hum. An occasional birthday or anniversary is celebrated table-side accompanied by appropriate music played over a crackly speaker. A cake appears and is delivered on (you guessed it) a brushed steel cart to the celebrants’ table. Tournament results, evening events, and assorted miscellaneous announcements are made, then finished with a concluding trademark “That is all. Thank you.”

Several meals are served on the hill under the first fairway pavilion (beside the fairway, but beneath the “summit”). Hill-dinners are “Chicken on the Hill” and “Steak on the Hill”, both cooked over impressive brick barbeque pits full of glowing charcoal briquettes and attended by various multi-tasking staff personalities. Hill-lunches feature the salad-sandwiches (chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad) all on bread with crust removed, and barbeque pork plopped on a whole wheat roll. Can’t forget the endless sweet hill-tea (for some reason, can’t get sweet tea down below in the dining room).

Meals are also, as my daughter Ginny taught me, opportunities for community, fellowship and deepening friendships. I believe she would say, “Meals should have meaning.” It’s always interesting to see who sits by whom at each meal, and who rotates to sit by different whoms as people take an early leave from the table. Cousins reunite. Siblings banter. Members of the younger generation are cornered by their seniors and pumped for information as to academics and career trajectories. Disparate political, theological and philosophical views can be aired (and are). The ten-and-unders, the eleven-to-fifteens, the legal drivers and collegians, the working class and retirees all intersperse and seem to dialog very naturally. Age-based cliques and silos are dissolved.

Meals here are also opportunities to showcase and satisfy man’s ages-old fisher-gatherer instincts. A visit to the pond, which yields a “keeper,” permits the fisherman an opportunity to enjoy his or her fish at the next scheduled meal, sans head, filleted, egg and cornmeal battered and fried up goo-oood.

This prospect brings me to the point of this narrative.

Over the years, the kids have clamored for me to bring fishing poles. I did that in the past, but stopped, because I grew tired of prepping the rods, stocking the tackle box, picking up the 7-Eleven night crawlers that no one but me would cut, threading them onto the barbed hook, and then having repeatedly to untangle the lines I prepped. Fishing in July had become for me like a warm weather version of winter wear bundling. You spend 20 minutes to get junior all dressed up in his snow suit, boots, gloves and hat, only to hear him say “I gotta pee.” Big build up. Big let down.

Notwithstanding my cynicism, I do enjoy thinking back over one fishing event several years ago. my son, Chip was late to dinner one evening. The cousins last saw him at the pond, fishing. I got up from the table and went to retrieve him. When I got to the pond, he was on the dock, clearly in distress. Seems he’d strung a triple-hook on his line, baited it, drew back the rod and cast. All three hooks were traveling at whip-crack speed, and one (it only takes one) found its way to that sweet spot just below the left rear blue jean pocket, where it penetrated Levi Strauss’s best, and buried itself in Chip’s derrière.”

“Well, well. Interesting,” I said.

Assessing the situation, I removed the fillet knife from the tackle box and cut a quarter-sized piece of stone-washed denim to expose the butt-buried hook. I was now ready to perform a gluteal hook-ectomy. I’m pretty sure those blue jeans are the only thing that fillet knife ever cut. Using the needle-nosed pliers in the tackle box, I cut the fishing line, disconnecting the rod from the hook. I next took hold of the hook and moved it around gently. Despite my gentleness, Chip insisted on howling. I replied, “Shhhhh. You’ll scare the fiwaaaahaaaahaaahaaa . . . . ”

Studying the situation a moment longer, I looked him in the eye, and said, “This is definitely going to hurt you more than it hurts me.” I suggested he put the handle of the rod between his teeth and bite down hard when I counted to three. Grasping hook with pliers, I began counting, “One . . . two . . . (forgot three) . . .” and yanked the hook with lightening speed, freeing him from the snare.

The extracted hook, with denim circle still attached has occupied a spot on our kitchen bulletin board ever since.

This year I brought two rods. Zip tied ’em to the luggage rack. When I got up our first morning and headed out, I met Chip who asked, “Did you hear about Giff ?”

The pond is home to a variety of small-ish fish (perch, sunnies, etc.), and some decent size cat fish. There are also several huge carp. 2-3 feet in length. Lazy bottom-feeders. Never bite. Not interested in any lure. Ever. Been that way for years. Giff got up at 0-dark-30 and went to the pond with a rod for an early morning angling session. Little did Giff know, as did Sir Issac Walton, was that the carp is the queen of rivers (and ponds); a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish. Plus, the American Carp Society in March of 2006 paid out $275,000 to carp anglers. Really. So, Giff stood on the small dock, and floated the line in the water espying his big game fish. He hung the bait just above his intended catch, and waited.

Gnats are a problem at times.The establishment provides punks (hand-held incense sticks without the stink) which are lit and waved to cast a smoky haze around one’s head and shoulders. Wielded properly, these will drive the gnats over to the next punkless guy. We even light seven or eight at a time and stick them in whole wheat rolls at the hill-meals to create a gnat no-fly zone. Well, Giff set the rod down to light his punk . . . .

In a flash, the rod rocketed off the dock and into the pond. That fat, lazy carp had become caught, and was heading for deeper water at high speed with my rod in tow! No doubt a genus cyprinus mistake.

As he returned to the carp academy dragging a rod along behind him, no doubt his fellow cyprinus carpo (the common carp) ostracized him like they would the guy who leaves the men’s room with a foot of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. He was probably branded a carp-leper by the uppity hypophthalmichthys moultrix (the silver carp) and hypophathalmichthys nobilis (the bighead carp) — the pond caste system’s carp-brahmins.

I can just hear him now: “Listen here! I innocently brushed up against a medial-fin-high ball of dough, and it snagged me! Honest! I’m a carp for goodness sake. I eat bottom scum like the rest of you. What do I want with a ball of dough?! That stuff is bait for the bourgeois! Come on, guys!”

As the rod rocketed off the dock, Giff lunged, diving forward and reaching elbow deep into the pond. Alas, he was not long enough of arm. Rod gone.

At breakfast, I quelled my urge to yell at him for losing my rod. After all, were it not my rod, were it some other family, this would be a pretty cool story. I told him so, and we fist-bumped.

To his credit, he spotted what looked like a rod at the bottom of the pond later that afternoon. So, the next morning before breakfast, he, Allie, and I took a row boat out on Butt Hook Pond. And, after 25 minutes of rowing clumsily in circles to hold our position, still in time to make it to breakfast, we managed to fish the lost rod out of the pond.

Both rods are back safely in my garage, snugly hung against the ceiling out of reach. Next July, I’ll be asked to bring the fishing rods. I’ll ignore the question. Then I’ll grumble. Then I’ll acquiesce and tie them to the car roof for another adventure.

Father of the Bride Toast — Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner

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Heidel-McFadden Rehearsal Dinner
Maggiano’s, Tysons Galleria
August 16, 2013

I was asked by Allie a few weeks ago to offer up the Father of the Bride Toast at tomorrow’s wedding reception, and had already been thinking of what I might say on this rehearsal dinner occasion.

In order to avoid being branded and ill-prepared and unoriginal public speaker, I resolved to come up with something fresh. But, some things, they say, never change and so having borrowed a bit from past rehearsal dinner remarks, I offer up my apologies in advance to those of you who were present to hear those.

Among many immutable laws of nature is this: Chuck in front of a crowd, making remarks = high probability he’ll cry. To those of you who will be unsettled by this I apologize again in advance.

This is the second opportunity I’ve had to attend a Heidel rehearsal dinner and wedding since Chip and Ellie were married and I was only a few months into life in a broken earth-suit. It was splendid to be a virtual participant through the magic of cell phones, video and Skype. Four years on, I find myself not often looking too far ahead with great certainty. So, it is doubly sweet for me to be here with you all in spirit and body, appetites at the ready.

When I first met Kenneth (a.k.a. Ken-Ken, or Ken-Ken McFab-Fab, or K-K McF-F as he later came affectionately to be known . . . even if behind his back), he struck me as a somewhat introspective, quiet man. It could have been that he landed in the midst of the Heidel mob during our mealtime tsunami. It wasn’t long before he seemed at ease, working the crowd warmly — both young and old. I observed him to be questioner and a listener. I was impressed by the range of his relationships, and his ability to dial-in to those relationships on a variety of constructive levels. More than the obligatory surface “Hey — How are you?” As he and I had opportunity to talk, I appreciated these qualities more.

In time, I came to learn Kenneth was a Virginia Tech Hokie. Perhaps not surprisingly and taking some license, in light of Isaiah 11:6 (. . . the VT Hokie laying down with the UVA Wahoo . . .), that proved to be no impediment. He even politely listened to my cover of the Univesity of Virginia Pep Band’s 1979 rendition of a Hokie-fied Ballad of Jed Clampett. See me offline if interested.

I appreciated — if only vicariously — his love for the outdoors, being active, clinging like Spiderman to sheer vertical rock faces, hurling himself out the doors of perfectly fine airplanes, and wandering around the Alaskan bush without enough bread crumbs. I noted these were things he and Allie enjoyed in common.

On one or two occasions we spoke about career alternatives in the Christian camping realm, and I appreciated his wanting to understand and carefully consider that world. I also came to see and appreciate his love for Christ and his desire (put in into action) to influence his many Burke Community Church minions accordingly.

In time he and I spoke about his affection for in Allie and his interest in having that relationship advance. I had some experience evaluating daughter-suitors. One or two of those evaluations went a bit rough early on, no doubt due to my youthful (merely) book-learned zeal and inexperience. When Kenneth and I intersected, we spoke very candidly, openly, and warmly — right? (looking directly at Kenneth) — and it was the case that his interest and intentions were in line with my paternal expectations. His respect and deference meant a lot to me then, and it was plain to see his treatment of Allie was that of a servant, not a self-server.

These conversations weren’t convenient either, as Kenneth circumnavigated the Beltway several times during or heading into rush hour traffic. He had to work hard getting to Laurel to have them.

Our culminating conversation calendared, he secretly met me in the neighborhood and drove us both to Long Horn where we enjoyed appetizers and a beer. I asked him what he wanted to talk about. He told me he loved Allie and wanted my permission to ask her to marry him. I happened to be looking down at that moment (having dropped my nacho), and raised my head to look him in the eye, and I replied, “No (emphasis on “No”) . . . prrrrrrroblem whatsoever.”

Kenneth’s face blanched a bit before regaining its ruddy swarthy color. We laughed . . . OK. Maybe only I laughed.

Our conversation then ventured in a number of directions — all at least semi-serious topics, even the smaller print “In sickness, and in health” possibilities. I appreciated those exchanges (even though he left me with the check), and was again grateful for his viewing this prospect as a servant, not a self-server.

It is sometimes true that you can judge a man by the company he keeps. So might it be said that you can judge a man by the parents and family he comes from. Recognizing the limitations of human agency, but that God ordinarily achieves His ends through means which are sometimes relationships, as Alice and I came to know Bill and Carol better, and have learned of (and now met) the siblings, I appreciate Kenneth even more.

Now onto Allie. When I first met Allie, she was very close to her mother . . . .

It wasn’t long before we were very good friends though, and her creativity, fearlessness and athleticism began to bubble up.

Hair like a Muppet, thunderous thighs, fearless in the face of stampeding chickens, consultatively pushing the envelope in play house, sandbox and dirty laundry closet hygiene, creatively combining free-fall with salad-plate landings. Later a tumbling aerialist with prehensile toes that could wring the balance beam before flipping, spinning, catapulted landings were “stuck.” Able to shag to Carolina Beach Music. A talented car radio in the driveway air guitarist and or lead vocalist (best songs were Don McLean’s American Pie and Elton John’s Funeral for a Friend). Disciplined, hard-working, and a player-through-pain. Able to adapt to circumstances: gymnast and piano student gone abroad, turned ballet teacher and church pianist. Tenacious. Dutiful: surrogate mother to 4 younger siblings while Alice and I were in Atlanta the better part of three months. A lover of Christ and the relationships He finds for her.

Through high school and off to college, her artistic abilities were honed and developed as photo-journalism met Helen Keller, River Citeeziens (Music Man), and Ariel (The Tempest).

Having grown up in a Christian family, many of her presuppositions were put to the test but emerged tempered, not torn to pieces.

And, young men began appearing on the radar.

As Allie’s father, believing I had a role to play in her relationships with these “friend-boys,” I insinuated myself into those relationships. Sadly, my involvement wasn’t always appreciated. Many times I feared that what had been a treasured father-daughter relationship would be hopelessly unraveled. But you know, God is good. He kept both of us soft. And our continuing friendship has proven to be a very favorable climate in which we would later ponder an ever more serious relationship with a certain Hokie.

Kenneth, I appreciate your determination, perseverance, respect and friendship. And I am grateful to the Lord for his work in your life. I trust and believe you will lead and care for Allie tenderly, taking as your model Jesus Christ who gave himself up for His bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:25-32

Allie, I love you and am delighted for you to marry Kenneth. I have no doubt you will adorn him wonderfully. Ephesians 5:22-24

God bless you both.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.

Hepsibah, Burpton and Me — Reluctant Patriarchal Advice

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My sister’s friend is anticipating the birth of his first child. She asked me to think of bits of advice for first time fathers — humorous or serious — which, along with others’ bits of advice, would be used in some suitably embarrassing way against this rookery rookie. I reluctantly contributed, because although I am an experienced father, I am far from top-gun (eight progeny and 28 years bear witness). That said, I do wish to be a better patriarch.

It’s good to occasionally rehearse things that are true, even if axiomatic and unoriginal, else they are easily forgotten or beat out of us. Being reminded is a good thing because we are forgetful. So, for our mutual benefit regardless of the number of arrows in our quivvers:

1. Children are a blessing (not necessarily an easy one) from The Lord, and are “on loan.” Treat them well.
2. Children will add a powerful facet to your wife’s character and to your relationship with her — you may not recognize it at first, nor are you likely to understand it, but make it your business to, and live in an understanding way.
3. Children are fragile yet resilient, they will refine you even as they absorb and reflect many of your very own characteristics.
4. Children are innocent and naive even as they are accutely perceptive of your own innate patronizing and hypocrisies.
5. At times, the children you love may not be easy to like — that said, strive to relate to them at those times with a decades-distant view to preserving your friendship capital.
6. Mean-spirited sarcasm, and loud eloquent expressions of anger — things at which we adults are very good — should have no place in your parenting. When you do let slip — and you inevitably will — the nine most important and powerful words are, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
7. Sleep deprivation training should begin soonest possible.
8. When tossing Hepsibah or Burpton playfully into the air, mind the ceiling fans.
9. Disingenuousness will be flushed out — children are a mirror into your soul. They are change-agents, and resistance is futile.
10. Selflessness is a oft’ touted virtue. Few men learn selflessness whose sovereign borders are not invaded by children.

The author gratefully attributes the use of Hepsibah and Burpton as archetypal daughter and son, to the Rev. Bob Needham.