I’m sure you’ve heard about couples who do a “first look.” You know, when the bride and groom choose to go against tradition and see each other before their wedding ceremony. Typically, it’s a private moment carved out in the hustle and bustle of the day for the groom to see his bride for the first time and have the wedding photographer capture his reaction.
My husband and I decided not to do a first look because I wanted him to see me in my dress for the first time walking down the aisle. I also had a little surprise planned for him — I walked down the aisle to his favorite song.
However, I did do a first look with my dad, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable and precious moments of my wedding day.
The first look with my dad wasn’t planned at all. It hadn’t even crossed my mind, actually; it was just something that happened organically.
My dad and brother arrived at the wedding venue as the bridesmaids and I were taking pictures before the ceremony. I remember someone saying: “Hali, your dad is here. Do you want to photograph his reaction to seeing you in your dress?”
It had been such a whirlwind day that was moving too fast for me to stop and enjoy at some points, but I immediately said yes to this special moment with my dad because he is the only parent I have.
My dad and I have been through so much together. Specifically, we worked as a team to care for my mom when she became sick — taking turns driving her to chemotherapy treatments and sitting with her throughout them, spending long days by her side in the hospital, and nights sleeping on uncomfortable hospital chairs. Together, we made decisions about her end-of-life care, and then after she passed and the funeral was over and everyone went back to their lives, it was just me and my dad left in the house that had once been our family home.
So believe me when I say, this special moment with my dad before my wedding will always be treasured.
My bridesmaids helped me sneak around to the opposite side of the plantation house at our venue while the photographers got my dad in place with his back to where I would enter from.
As I stepped out from under magnolia trees that decorate the beautiful southern property and saw my dad for the first time that day, I was flooded with emotion — happy because it was my wedding day, thankful because my dad was there for it (when you lose a parent at a young age, moments such as these with the parent you have left are valuable), and sad because my mom wasn’t there to share the excitement with him.
I slowly walked toward him and as I got closer, I reached out and tapped him on the shoulder to let him know he could turn around.
The look on his face when he saw me in my dress made me cry instantly. I am abundantly thankful that our photographers were able to capture that raw emotion.
I remember when I was much, much younger and would listen to the song “I Loved Her First” by Heartland. I would dream of the day I would become a bride and imagine my dad walking me down the aisle, him giving me away, and the dance we would share at the reception.
It’s something so many little girls dream of, and that wish finally came true for me.
My dad deserved this moment because, as the song says, he loved me first. He gave me life and raised me to be the human I am.
It might have been mine and Justin’s wedding day, but this was a big one for him, too.