On May 26, 2013, my oldest daughter, Sarah, was married to Zachary Goldfarb in an outdoor ceremony at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY. Here is the toast I delivered to Sarah and Zach toward the end of that lovely evening.
(May 26, 2013)
A British newspaper ran a contest some years ago to find the most-loved last lines in all of literature. One of the top-ranked was the last line from A. A. Milne's "House at Pooh Corner"—written in 1928. You remember this was the first in a series of stories about the boy, Christopher Robin and his favorite stuffed bear, Winnie-the-Pooh. In the story, the boy and his bear go on many wonderful journeys and adventures, and then at the end we leave them in their enchanted Forest walking hand-in-hand. Here's the final line: "So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."
Remember that; we're going to come back to it.
But first, we need to talk business—specifically, I refer to what's called the "bride-price." Now, the bride-price—what a groom pays to the father of the bride for the privilege of marrying his daughter, goes back all the way to the Code of Hammurabi in Ancient Mesopotamia. It's also spelled out in the Hebrew Bible. I quote from Exodus, Ch. 22, Verse 16-17: "If a man seeks to marry a woman who is not already pledged to be married, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife."
This bride price, according to researchers, may range from a herd of cattle to a very great price if the woman is of "high social standing, a beauty queen or highly educated." In some cultures today, Papua New Guinea, for example, if the bride is "university educated or well-placed in business or politics, the amount paid may escalate to $100,00 or more, and include items like a new bus , a Toyota 4-wheel drive, or even "mining rights."
Now, I'm not complaining, but as far as I can tell, all I've gotten for my intelligent, beautiful, university-educated daughter who is indeed "well-placed in politics" is [show it] this box of M&Ms that flew on Air Force One. Ok, that's not quite all. I also got this paper napkin with the presidential seal. Oh, and a presidential matchbook.
On a more serious note, preparation for this wedding has been a happy journey that began for me, literally, on a journey. It was November of 2011 and I was on a train to NYC to have Thanksgiving with the Goldfarb's when somewhere around Utica my phone rang. It was Zach. I listened in stunned silence as Zach told me he was planning two days later, at Thanksgiving, to propose to Sarah, and for this he was asking my blessing. I was delighted and flattered that he'd made such a gesture, and of course gave my hearty approval. Zach then swore me to absolute secrecy—I couldn't tell anyone lest Sarah find out the surprise.
When I arrived in New York City later that day, I was walking on air and could hardly contain my surprise. But heading toward my hotel, I wasn't sure how to transfer subway lines and so asked a young man in his mid-30s who seemed trustworthy. He said he was going the same way and I should walk with him. "So what brings you to NY?" he asked. That was all the prompting I needed. What could be the harm in telling a stranger? So I blurted out the whole story: in just two days, on Thanksgiving, a wonderful young man is going to ask my daughter to marry him. The man seemed delighted and asked more questions about the couple. "Oh, he covers the White House for the Washington Post, I said, and she works for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid." Before we parted at Times Square, I thought to ask the man what kind of work he does. "I'm with the Associated Press," he said. "So...," I asked, "the only person I told this secret to is a guy from the wire services?"
"That's right," he said. "Enjoy your stay in NY!"
I want to go back a little further . . .I vividly remember the day Sarah was born. As Marie mentioned, it was at GW Hospital in D.C. Late that evening, I drove back alone to a little house in D.C. we'd rented for the summer. I remember having two powerful thoughts: first, I wanted to stop traffic, pull people out of their cars, and yell, "We just had a baby!" And second, that if anyone ever tried to hurt my little girl, I would rip their throat out with my bare hands.
Fortunately, I didn't do either of those things.
The following week, we had a baby naming. Some of you were there. Rabbi Gene Lipman, who had officiated at our wedding, led the service, which ended with a prayer: "just as this little girl has now entered the covenant, so may she enter a life of study and of good deeds, and may we be privileged to bring her to the chuppah, the wedding canopy."
And so, miraculously, 28 years later, here she is—at the chuppah.
Like most D.C. summers, by the way, that summer of 1984 was a hot one. We didn't have any air-conditioning but we did have a front porch and on it, suspended from the ceiling, was an old-fashioned porch swing. Sarah and I spent a lot of time that summer on that swing, her head lying on my shoulder, staying cool and getting to know each other.
That was also the summer that Walter Mondale, the Democratic Presidential nominee, chose Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate—the first woman on a national ticket. And there I was on that porch swing, our baby girl on my shoulder, and I, the new Dad, suddenly able to dream big dreams for her.
I have to say, what my daughter has so far achieved in such a brief number of years already exceeds those dreams.
And, too, I could not have dreamed of a finer mate for her than Zach Goldfarb. Zach, you had me from, "Sure, I can fix your computer." It has been humbling getting to know you. First, because I've always tried to be a mensch, but you actually turn out to be the real thing: a tip o' the yamaka here to Linda and Joel for doing such a fine job raising my son-in-law. And second, honestly, you're the smartest guy I've ever known up close. Nor have I ever known anyone who writes as clear and fast as you. Probably not all of you could see this, but when we were outside for the ceremony, between the time the first bridesmaid started down the aisle and when Joel and Linda got Zach to the chuppah, he filed a story. How many comments already: 5,000?
But mostly Zach's smart for having married my daughter.
So Zachary A. Goldfarb, I give you my grown-up daughter—and you don't have to pay any bride-price—although I'm not giving back the M & Ms. Or the napkin. Or the matches. Seriously, the kindness, patience, and wisdom you show to Sarah and indeed to our whole family is payment enough. Heck, even having the class to call me on the train and ask my blessing was payment enough. So, I give my grown-up girl to you with a whole and grateful heart.
But I am going to keep one thing, if you don't mind, and that's the little girl I held on my shoulder that first summer on the porch swing. She's precious to me, and lies on my shoulder, still. Remember that last line from House at Pooh Corner? To paraphrase, "So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a Dad and his little girl will always be together."
Sarah and Zach, when today is a long time ago—when today is a long time ago—my wish for you on the journey of your marriage is that you will create a shalom bayit, a home of peace, and that through the challenges of children and other challenges we cannot even imagine, you will nourish and sustain your love—and do nothing to harm it—and always cherish each other and see in each other the bride and groom that you are tonight. Because if you can do all that, then we—your family and friends who here this evening surround you with love—even if some of us are not able to travel that whole way with you—we can still know with confidence, with certainty, what the last line of your story will be: "So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, Sarah and Zach will always be together."