Doug Bruns

A Father’s Toast.

In Family, Happiness, Life, Memoir on October 13, 2012 at 6:00 am

To the marriage of Allie and Geo.

Daughter Allison got married last weekend. She was beautiful. The groom was handsome. The venue perfect. It was a good day to be a father.

I gave a toast, preluded with a story, a father’s reminiscence, a bit of advice, and only then a raising of the glass.

A few in attendance have asked for a transcript. I didn’t write it out, and though I’d practiced the outline of what I wanted to say, it wasn’t until I began speaking that I knew what was going to come of out of my mouth. My toast was made immediately following the ceremony, while the audience was still in their chairs. I watched a video of the ceremony (to glean the toast) and share the (slightly edited) transcript below.

October 6, 2012

On behalf of the long-suffering Mrs. Bruns, my bride of thirty-four years, and myself I’d like to thank you all for being here.

As the champagne is going around, we’re going to break from tradition a bit. I’m going to offer a toast, but before I do, I’m going to make you listen to a story.

As Allie and I walked down the stairs just now, I turned to her and said, ‘On belay.’ She breathed deeply and responded, ‘belay on.’

Not too many years ago, Allie and I started rock climbing together. In typical Bruns fashion, we became obsessive about the sport; such that every night after dinner, we’d gather our gear and rush to the climbing gym. We climbed three or four nights a week. We did it for years and we thought we got pretty good at it. Eventually, we decided to see how good we were and went to Joshua Tree, California, a national park, a mecca for rock climbers, to test ourselves.

First morning of the first day, as Allie and I hiked into the park, we experienced butterflies and nerves, all the things you would anticipate. I knew at that moment, standing at the base of the first route, that she was filled with trepidation and nerves. And I turned to you [pointing to Allie] and said, ‘you’re going to climb first.’ She had a wild-eyed expression. I continued. ‘You’re going to be nervous and your palms are going to sweat. You’re going to get halfway up this crag and you’re going to wonder, What the hell am I doing?’ But, I said, ‘You can climb this. And when you get to the top, look over your shoulder and enjoy that view–we climb for lots of reasons, you know, not the least of which is the view.’

Allie, you climbed the first route that first morning and experienced all of the symptoms I’d anticipated. But you climbed through them and afterward you said that, indeed, the view from the top was beautiful.

[To the audience.] So why am I telling you this story? Because I cannot resist the metaphor of climbing and marriage.

For example, at the beginning of every climb, the two climbers start a communication and it’s very important that it continue through the entire climb. It starts with a request: ‘On belay.’ And the response is, ‘Belay on.’ The job of the belayer is to keep the climber safe. In my case, to keep my eye on her. Allie and I exchanged this command, then she turned to the rock and said to me, ‘Climbing.’ And my response was, ‘Climb on.’ And so it began.

As you climbed [gesturing to Allie], you got to the crux of that climb. Every route has its most difficult section. Using the metaphor, life will deliver us a challenge. As you got to the crux, Allie, you shouted down that you needed rope slack. I gave you slack, and responded with encouragement. ‘Allie you can do this. You look strong.’ And you climbed through the crux.

Before you started your climb, Allie, we put on our harnesses and we roped in. The climber puts on her equipment and her partner checks it. Are the buckles properly cinched? Did I put on my harness correctly? Another set of eyes to look over the other, to protect, to keep safe. It’s a duel responsibility, a team effort. Then you run the rope. You take the rope and ensure there are no knots in it, that it’s not frayed. Allie, you tied in, I tied in. Then I checked your knot and you checked mine.

[To the newlyweds.] To use a cliché, today you guys tied the knot. [The audience chuckles.] And today you guys start your climb. Your job is to communicate, to keep each other safe, to send words of encouragement, to protect, to ensure that if one comes off the rock, the fall is arrested.

Most importantly, when you get to the top, you wait for the other. The view from the top is best shared with your partner.

So Allie, you’ve got a new climbing partner. [I sigh.] And I have observed him closely. In Geo you have a man diligent and hard-working. He’s got great attention to detail–which, Allie, is going to be helpful for you. [Laughs from the audience.] He’s prudent and he’s thoughtful, both in the sense that he is thinking about you and others, but also that he’s thoughtful about the process he’s in. He thinks through things. He’s a man with a lot of ideas.

And, Geo, in Allie you’ve got a young lady. [Long pause] Let me edit that. [Sigh] You’ve got a wife. [At this point, Allie, standing at the back of the venue, starts to unravel. I point to her and command, ‘Stop it, Allison.’ The crowd laughs. My voice begins to break. ‘I was doing so well,’ I say. I collect myself.] Geo, you’ve got a wife with a heart which knows no horizon and a sense of adventure that knows no bounds. As she’s matured, I’ve observed that her capacity for risk has been tempered and that comes with wisdom.

[To them both.] Together, in front of me, I see a great team.

I would like to now propose a toast. If everyone could please stand, raise your glass, and repeat after me. The four commands climbers use when they begin their adventure:

On belay. ‘ON BELAY.’

Belay on. ‘BELAY ON.’

Climbing. ‘CLIMBING.’

Climb on. ‘CLIMB ON.’

  1. A great moment. Thank you Doug for sharing that.

  2. You are a marvel, Doug Bruns. Thank to for sharing this intimate moment with me.

  3. ok, i’ve been to way too many wedding and this is the best father of the bride toast ever! nice job. brought a tear to my eye…. congrats.

    • Thanks, Winkie–that’s high praise, indeed. I appreciate it–but it was simply one of those rare magical days when the universe offers up pleasant surprises in every direction.

  4. Congratulations my friend…I felt your pride in every word. What a meaningfull toast!

  5. Doug, Pam & I are at a wedding in Santa Barbara. I just read your toast out loud to Pam & needed to reach for the tissues before I finished. You were wise to ignore my advice. You have a gift with words and a father could not have presented her daughter with a better send-off.

    • Craig ~ I’m pleased the toast made you reach for the tissues. One can only aspire to such cheap pleasures. But, really the day was magic and everything came to a perfect place, including my toast–and, thanks to your advice, the father daughter dance. It was not lost on my holding my little girl as Louis sang to us of Wonderful Worlds! Hope your travels find you in an equally perfect place. Thanks for dropping me the note.

  6. Congratulations on your daughter. This post was lovely and brought tears to my eyes. Very perfectly spoken and something I look forward to in ways when I meet my future husband, whomever he is. Thank you for this glimpse into your personal life.

    • Thanks, Kate. She’s a special gal and it gave me great joy to share a bit our life together, father and daughter, as she sets out on her new adventure. The day was quite special and the send off perfect. Thanks for reading. I’m glad the post brought you happiness–and best of luck finding that future husband. My marriage was, and remains, the best decision I ever made. Regards,

  7. A beautiful toast, Doug, to accompany the beautiful occasion. Like your other readers, I teared up with human joy. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, S. It was a really wonderful day. Funny, for weeks leading up to the wedding, I would, during my morning dog walk, practice the toast. Lucy heard it–that is, when she wasn’t darting off into the woods to torture some varmint–Lucy heard it a hundred times. She liked it. I liked it. Carole liked it. And Allie and Geo liked it. You liked it. All the important people liked it. But seriously, it was one of just a handful of standout, profound, parent moments. Thanks for writing and I’m pleased that you liked it too!

  8. dear doug

    you don’t know me and i don’t know you. and i can’t remember how i came across your blog (when i look at your tag list there are a number of possibilities, dfw, camus, the examined life) but it wasn’t long ago.

    you know – for reasons that i won’t go into here – i have never had this pleasure, and i will never have it – of seeing my daughter marry, of climbing with her, and of being able to be the kind of father you must be. but through your post i tasted a little of what that would be like. and if i weep it is not for myself and what i will never have, it is for being in the world and being alive and getting an intimate glimpse of another human life

    thanks for your blog and what you have shared there. if it’s time to move on then so be it. let’s go!

    on belay.

    greetings from australia.


    • Dear Johannes ~ I get up with the sun. I have a routine: I make coffee, sit in my chair, read the net, check email; then after half an hour so I get in the truck with Lucy, drive to the trail, and take a nice walk. It’s cold here now. It was hardly thirty degrees (F) this morning. And I spotted a Peregrine Falcon this morning too. This makes the second time in a week I saw him. This morning the sun was rising and he was flying overhead and the morning light was illuminating him a yellow bronze tint. It was most beautiful. I tell you all this because the first thing I happened to read this morning with the first sip of coffee was your note. I haven’t been right since, even with the falcon in flight.

      I don’t have anything I can say to your comments of course. I just want you to know how they took my breath away. I shared them with my wife when she got up and we both just sat and looked dumbly at one another. Finally she said, “You can never be sure how what you write and say will touch others.” She is the master of understatement.

      Regardless of all that, thank you for your comment. You mention the “intimate glimpse” experienced of another life and your appreciation for it. Likewise, my friend. Your story is full of gaps and holes as it should be, but there is a stark and sad beauty that you reveal. Thank you for sharing that. Perhaps that is difficult, but like many worthy things, difficulty is part of what we are dealt and how we play that hand is the difference between coming off the rock and progressing on route.

      Climb on, friend.
      Belay on.


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