I've been going to a lot of weddings this summer. Being the father of the bride is very much like being a taxpayer in North Carolina. You hear about big plans, and you're told what you think is important, but it isn't. Your job is to pay for everything.
It starts out with a set of events you have little control over. You may have been asked for your permission or not. It doesn't matter. The event is moving forward. There may be a budget; but again, that doesn't matter. Whatever it is is, they will exceed it and you will pay it.
As plans get underway, you deal directly with the bride and her mother, but the stakeholders in the event quickly grow. Soon, there is your mother-in-law, your mother, the groom's mother, a florist, a caterer, bridesmaids, and people you don't even know. They will confer, make deals, and come up with a package that makes them happy. You will not be included in any of these decisions. But you will pay for all of them.
You know several other girls who are planning weddings. Georgia and Virginia think they can compete, so it's important that you outdo them, you are told. Your bride has incomparable natural beauty, so the $5,000 wedding dress is worth every penny. An open bar and a live band are musts to entertain the movers and shakers in your town. The premier venue, valet parking, and imported flowers will impress the out-of-towners. In the long run, this extravagance will help you. Boost your business connections, you're told.
Following the ceremony, you can't have anyone going away hungry, can you? Someone suggests a carving station. Perhaps ham. Or roast beef. You suggest meatballs -- they'll get the job done and make a more economical choice for so many guests. They agree: Meatballs it is. AND the carving stations for ham and roast beef. Oh yeah, the groom's family is from Chapel Hill, so a couple of vegetarian selections are on the menu. And speaking of the groom's family, they've added 50 guests to the list.
More decisions are made, you write more checks. Your bank account is empty, your savings have been depleted, and you've taken out another loan. The big day is just weeks away. You think the worst is over.
Then the bride wants to go over the rules. Rules? There are rules too? Well. You have to wear a tuxedo. You don't want to wear a tuxedo. It's uncomfortable, it'll cost another couple hundred bucks, and you have a perfectly good suit. The bride says a study conducted across southeastern states found that all summer weddings require a tuxedo and that's that. You aren't allowed to drink too much, you have to dance with sweaty Aunt Bernice, and you're expected to give a speech declaring all of this has been a pleasure for you.
You've finally had enough. No, you say. The rules are stupid and I'm not going to comply. The mother of the bride calmly informs you that you don't have to do anything you don't want to. But if you don't comply with the rules, there are penalties you will pay. You have lived with this woman your entire adult life and, on occasion, have paid a penalty. It slowly sinks in that, like it or not, you will be complying with the rules.
With all your money spent and having obeyed all the rules, you realize you're never going to get that fishing boat you'd been saving for but have high hopes for the newlyweds. You hope things don't turn out like they did for that couple up the street who live in that weird house, the Solyndras. Nasty divorce. And I hear her father spent a bundle on that wedding.
Becki Gray is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.