Walking out of the airport terminal dragging a carry-on and a heavy tote on an early Friday morning in August 2017, I felt exhausted—but I didn't care: I was excited to be home from New York City to go wedding dress shopping with my mom, my sister, and a few of my closest friends. As I approached the arrivals curb, I saw my mom and dad sitting in the car, eager to welcome me back—and although I was pumped to see them, a question immediately came to mind, since I was heading straight to dress appointments: Why is my dad here?
"So, Dad, are you going to drop mom and I off at the showroom, or…?" I tentatively asked after exchanging the appropriate hellos and hugs.
"No, I'm coming along!" he replied.
I tried to think of a way to let him down easy. I could see he was giddy about joining, but I always had assumed that most fathers see their child's wedding gowns for the first time on the big day, not a moment before. Plus, my father isn't exactly known for his fashion advice (sorry, dad).
"Are you sure you want to come?" I asked. "I want to see you pick the dress when everyone else does," he responded. Who was I to deny him that moment when my mom and sister would be able to see it? Also, I still didn't have a good reason, other than I assumed it just wasn't really done. Later, I would wonder where that assumption ever came from.
So we all went into the store together: My dad, my mom, a few of my bridesmaids, and myself. The attendant looked at our crew and asked who was helping me pick out my dress; I introduced everyone before shyly adding, "and my dad," who was beaming. She set up everyone on a plush couch outside a large, sunlit fitting-room area with a slate-gray curtain.
We started talking about which dress styles we liked or thought would look good on me. My mom had ideas (let's just say she envisioned something very princess-y), while I had other thoughts (something slinky, and definitely not a voluminous skirt). My dad, for his part, stayed mostly silent at first.
The first dress I tried was more "me:" A fitted, backless design with a plunging neckline, with not much in the way of sparkle or lace, just a simple ruching detail in the middle of the bodice. My mom's silence spoke volumes, while my friends felt the look was sleek and modern. My dad liked what he called the "gathered part" at the center but felt, overall, that the gown was too plain.
I knew then he wasn't going to be shy about chiming in. Sure, he didn't really know the lingo ("What's illusion mesh, Rachel?"), but he had fun discussing the various styles with my bridesmaids and my mom, and it was charming to witness all the back-and-forth banter. It hit me: I really appreciated having my dad there.
The next dress was a more flowery design full of lace appliqués. It was a mermaid silhouette, and I didn't feel like it was that flattering on me. Everyone generally agreed it wasn't The One, but we tried it on with a matching cathedral-length veil, and my dad was OBSESSED ("It adds so much drama!"). After that, we added veils left and right.
My dad was good at remembering the previous looks I had tried on and comparing the styles with each other for context. An hour—and four more dresses—later, I slipped into my sixth and last gown. I was feeling frustrated, having not found something my mom and I could necessarily agree on. My bridesmaids were tired but hanging in there, and my dad was still smiling. His mood was infectious, and it truly helped us all keep going.
I looked in the mirror in my fitting room before facing everyone—again— in the final design. The gown was stunning. What was more, it was a great middle ground between what I wanted in a dress and what my mom did, but it didn't feel like a compromise. I began to smile a little bit, although I was still nervous about what everyone would say.
The attendant opened the curtain, and right away, I could tell this look was different from all the others. My bridesmaids' mouths were in perfect ovals, and their eyes got very wide. They almost collectively squealed with glee on cue. My mom started tearing up a bit, which made my own eyes well up. Then I looked over to my dad.
He was absolutely elated. "It's perfect," he said. He got up, walked all around me, and talked about every inch of it. He told me to walk around the salon so we could see it from every angle. Then, he got closer, inspecting the detail of the sparkly appliqués. "This artistry is absolutely awesome," he said. "Look at this!" He motioned my mom over to see. Of course, when the attendant told us there was a matching cathedral-length veil, he was all over that too. "That veil with the dress—and the little floral details and the sparkles! It's celestial! It has so much dimension!" he said.
There was some back-and-forth about the price, but he wouldn't allow us to think about it for another minute, and neither would my mom. "We're getting it right now. This is The One," they said. My parents and I hugged, and everyone cried.
As we all reveled in the fact that I had just found my dress, my dad asked questions about which designer it was and began Googling her on his phone. He'd go on to talk about her and her amazing work for the rest of the weekend whenever he had the chance. It was clear that being included in this event made my dad ecstatic. And looking back, I can't believe there ever was a time I thought about excluding him.
Bringing him also gave me a totally different perspective on picking out a wedding dress. Wedding traditions, either around the dress or the events of the day, can be wonderful, but sometimes breaking them can be even more valuable. Sure, this moment between my dad, my mom, my bridesmaids, and me wasn't caught by a professional photographer, but a photo couldn't possibly capture the range of emotions on both of our faces throughout the whole time, everything he said, or how all my bridesmaids—and even the salon attendant—reacted to his enthusiasm (tears all around).
I've always heard that everything goes by so quickly on your wedding day, it's basically all a blur. I feel lucky that I remember this moment so clearly because it was the only thing that everyone was focused on that day.
Afterward, my dad and the rest of us celebrated with a round of champagne at a nearby outdoor bar. He kept telling everyone how honored he was to be included and how much fun it was to be there with all of us.
We all had the same response: "We couldn't have done it without you."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.