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Story Last modified at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reflections of a Father of The Bride
Mountain Echos

By Frank E. Baker

I tried to look relaxed in my rented tuxedo rather than stiff and awkward, like a starched penguin, as I waited nervously in the entry of the church for my daughter, The Bride, to make her appearance. Eagle River's Pastor Eldred Martin waited patiently about 10 feet away, Bible in hand.

Every so often I caught glimpses of The Bride in a side room, where bridesmaids and others swarmed around her like a queen bee, frequently bursting through the door and over to the stairs leading to the basement. The emissaries would soon return clutching an item — a can of hairspray, a ribbon, shoes — and buzz frenetically back into the room.

As the door opened a few inches, I could see her in her sprawling white wedding dress. She beamed a smile my way and waved. She was only about 20 feet away, but that wave seemed to come from a long distance.

She was now 24. Where had the time gone? Wasn't it just a while ago that I chased her around the house yelling: "The Hand! The Hand is going to get you!!!"

I'll never forget all those My Little Ponies she had stacked in her room ... leading to that day at the State Fair when she rode her first real pony wearing a broad smile and a deep "I have arrived" look of satisfaction.

When she was about 5 years old we had a June snowfall in the mountains, similar to the one we had recently. I told her when she woke up that she had slept through summer and that it was now winter again. I was surprised when she took me seriously and began to cry. I quickly told her it was a joke, apologized and gave her a big, comforting hug.

I probably had too much fun kidding her. Hanging on the wall above our dinner table, for instance, was a large painting of a dish of fruit. Before sitting down, I would secretly get some grapes from the refrigerator that looked like those in the painting, conceal them in my hand, and then tell her that I was pulling them from the picture. I don't think she ever really believed they came from the picture, but I made her wonder just the same.

Before she was 10 she completed several arduous hikes and climbs with me, often with her older brother. I'll never forget a hike with her up Lion's Head near the Matanuska Glacier when she was only 9. There is only one gradual route up to the top; all of the other sides are vertical cliffs. As we basked in the summer sun with a sweeping view of the glacier, she became bored and asked if we could play hide-and-seek. I admonished her that she would not leave my sight on this particular hike!

Every spring she'd roll up her sleeves and join us on cleanup along the Glenn Highway. In summer we'd bike to a secret picnic spot along Eklutna Lake.

I'll never forget her first day of school, those science projects long into the night, that first date; or how among the three methods of handling her clothing – hanging, draping or flinging – she preferred the latter. Sometimes clothing depths in her room reached several inches.

I'll never forget her many trips with the Chugiak High School choir; that night she came home, awakened us and announced: "Guess what? I was Prom Queen;" how she had difficulty cornering during driving lessons; how I fretted as I watched her drive away from our house in her first car; or how I helped her load luggage as she went off to college and later, carried some of her belongings to her dormitory room.

The door opened again and I caught another fleeting glimpse of The Bride. I then realized that it wasn't distance that made her seem so far away. It was time.

The attentive bridesmaids finally freed her, like launch pad arms releasing the space shuttle. And then she emerged, more radiant than I could ever imagine. She smiled and quietly took my arm.

"You are beautiful," I whispered in her ear.

Pastor Martin walked down the aisle ahead of us. I was crying a little, but no longer stiff like a frozen penguin. I really liked the groom and his family. My daughter had reached an age when she would have to make many decisions, and I was certain this was a good one.

Glancing down the aisle to the altar where Pastor Martin, the groom, the best man, the bridesmaids and others were assembled, the flood of emotions and memories flowed into a single thought:

"I just want her to be happy, and I know she will be."

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 29, 2011.