New Orleans Born and Raised
You know how some people you just connect with more than others? Daniel was the kind of groom we all pray for having as a client. He was "All In" from the beginning. I had to post his story because I wanted the voice of the groom to be heard. We all hear about the bride but never that often about the groom and his thoughts. Maybe it's a marketable thing but I wanted to share with you Daniel's story and maybe future groom's will relate to his story as well. Katherine and Daniel are growing their family and I'm crazy excited to be their photographer once again. :)
“All In” Daniel Gitlin (DanielGitlin@aol.com) blog entry for George Kuchler, gkphotography.com
Let me start off by saying that what I’m writing is for the men – not the guys. With that said, I wasn’t entirely a man as my wedding journey began.
Guys tend to look out for their own interests and needs.
Men strive to be the best they can and, most importantly, protect and look out for the best interests of those they truly love. They want those around them to be happy while still providing contentment for themselves.
I’m fairly certain that by writing to George’s readers that I’m speaking to men, not guys, because George is a man – it’s obvious in many ways, but most clearly how he isn’t afraid to put his thoughts out there and how he’ll tell anyone who’ll listen how much he loves his family.
Men do that kind of stuff.
As I said, I was a guy for a long period of my life. It was the experience of having a wedding that changed me.
I never expected much from a wedding, figuring it to be something that was for the woman and that a man endured as a responsibility. I was wrong. Our wedding was the most incredible and moving experience of my life. It shook me, challenged me, lifted me up, humbled me, and brought me closer to my family and God. It certainly was challenging and there were evenings where my fiancée and I shook our heads, wondering if we were doing the right thing by throwing such a big event.
Weddings can be so much more than they appear – it’s a time for you to be the best you’ve ever been and stand proud as you not only represent yourself, but your family and anyone who has influenced you along the journey. My experience taught me that a wedding means something different for everyone and that in today’s world it’s more important than ever for you, as the groom, to be involved. If you do, in the end, you’ll open your heart up to feeling things you’ll never forget. It’s against the grain of what you’ve been taught about weddings all your life.
Go online and ask Google, or Siri or Alexa or whomever how to be a good groom. Most of the “advice” you’ll get, or read, unfortunately is aimed at “guys” – it’s a bunch of lists of do this, don’t do that, make sure you do this, and, for heaven’s sake don’t do that. It’s almost like we are a bunch of children who just need to be taught the rules. You can just follow those and you’ll have a respectable wedding (you’ll certainly have beautiful photos) but at the end of the day you’ll find yourself wondering if you missed out on something.
A wedding is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you to be the best person you’ve ever been. It’s an opportunity to give back - to tell people how much you love them and how much they mean to you. It’s a brief window, in your otherwise routine life, where you can make people feel good and they can amaze you in return.
Three weeks before my wedding I was on the phone with my father. I was exhausted, sore and overwhelmed.
“I know this sounds silly,” I told him, “but I just feel that when I walk out there the day of my wedding it will be the best that I’ve ever been. And I want that, I need that, to show everyone what kind of man I’ve become and that I’m the right guy for Katherine.”
He didn’t say anything at first. But then he simply said, “I hope so, Daniel.”
Katherine, my finance at the time (now my wife), challenged ourselves months before the wedding to be at our physical bests for the wedding. We spent six months working out, five days a week, with Darren at Authentic Strength and Performance Institute in Metairie. Our days started at 6:30am with a 30 minute workout before we’d go in separate directions for work. Many days I’d jog home from work in Metairie back to New Orleans – hitting the pavement for a 7.5 mile trek. It wasn’t glamorous and many days I’d barely make it. It hurt. It was hard. If you passed me you’d probably think that I was running for the first time – it felt that way a lot.
Ultimately it was my respect for the wedding that got me home. I knew this was a one-time thing and how much I’d regret it if I didn’t leave it all on the line. And so, day in and out, Katherine and I worked out, ate fewer carbs, and followed Darren’s workouts. I don’t do things lightly and this wedding was no exception.
“I’ve never been this sore and emotionally exhausted,” I told my dad. “But I just feel it’ll be worth it in the end.”
“I’m proud of you son. Your mom and I can’t wait to see you in a few weeks.”
It wasn’t just physical. We spent countless Saturday mornings doing Pre-Cana Catholic wedding preparation counseling with the priest who would marry us, Father Edwin Gros, SJ. As if it wasn’t hard enough to expose myself emotionally in that kind of setting, I sat through those sessions as a Jew, born and bred in Philadelphia.
Want to be the biggest man you can be? Try compromising your spiritual roots for the sake of your wife. At no point, as I was growing up in New Orleans, attending Temple Sinai, had I imagined my wedding day taking place at Our Lady of Prompt Succor on the corner of State and Claiborne.
Weddings will surprise you if you let them. Love will surprise you, too. If you love someone enough you’ll find yourself doing things you never imagined.
“Let’s start by stating that no one is here to change religions,” Father Edwin, or Father Eddie as she called him, said as we started out our first session. “Let’s use this wedding as a chance to get to know each other better and become closer to God. Agreed?”
He wasn’t what I imagined. He was softer than I thought he’d be. He had kind, compassionate eyes, and I could tell he was trying hard to make sure I felt comfortable. The fact that he was clear he wasn’t expecting, or wanting, for me to move from my religious roots was calming.
Still, it wasn’t easy for me to do that for her – to agree to have the ceremony in the church. I felt like the “visitor” and it was like she had “home field advantage.” It didn’t seem fair. There were countless nights where I’d worry if I was doing the right thing. The anxiety became so real and regular that it lived inside of me. I feared I was letting down my family by making such a compromise, even though they had assured me of their support.
“I got married under an atheist tree,” my cousin had told me. “People understand.”
At the outset to the wedding planning we followed a suggestion that everyone who is contributing should voice one “must have” for the big day. Katherine, I and her parents agreed we’d follow this approach if everyone was honest (do it, it’s a good idea) and try and make it happen.
Katherine is the least selfish person I know. She lives to do things for others. She makes my life better just by being in the room. She’s loves the city, loves the people here, and never hides it for a moment.
She didn’t hesitate when it was her turn. “I want to be married in my church with my priest,” she said, with conviction.
A million thoughts went through my head at that moment, including questioning whose idea it was to do the exercise. It was mine.
Again, Katherine is selfless, so it was hard to find a reason not to give her that wish. It wasn’t in my nature to do things for others first – to put others in front of my needs. It was my nature to fight this to try and find another way. My way was being in complete control and having a plan for the moment before it even arrived. I had no patience for allowing the moment just to take place. It was this controlling thinking though that was holding me back.
At one point I asked Father Eddie how much time we actually had to spend talking to our guests at the wedding. My question, I felt, was valid and justified. We had heard the “lists” from our friends as they shared their regrets about their own weddings. We had heard that some people regretted going from table to table, speaking to guests as the time went by and the night became a memory.
“We should have fun and spend the time the way we want to at our wedding,” I said to Father Eddie from across the table. He looked at me and titled his head. He didn’t speak but I knew there was little agreement in his eyes.
I continued. “I mean, why should we waste the night away having small talk with people we barely know?”
“I hate to tell you this,” he started back, still soft but with purpose, “but the truth is that the wedding isn’t really just for you. In fact, in my experience, a great wedding should be a celebration of you, your parents and your friends – all equal parts. You see, these people will come to celebrate your day, but ultimately, in the bigger picture, they are the congregation of Katherine and Daniel. Later in life, when you need assistance, these are the people who will be there for you. And when they have needs and reach out to you and Katherine, you will be there for them.”
I had words in my mouth – I did – but they were childish and not worthy. For once in my life I kept quiet. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, true, but trying to convince a priest to change his mind was over my difficulty level. It was the first time in a long time that something happened – I stopped trying to control the moment. I swallowed my pride and nodded.
Two months before the wedding Katherine came to me and, in her unselfish way, offered that we could change the ceremony out of the church if that was what I really wanted.
“This is what you want,” I said, “and you should have it. Besides, you make every day a wedding day for me. I hope I can give you the best day I can.” I had never compromised so much and this wedding was changing me.
As our sessions with Father Eddie went on I grew to feel more and more comfortable and was able to open up to him. He became someone I trusted. Besides, we had something in common – we both cared very much for Katherine.
At every session we would open and close with a prayer. It wasn’t my favorite thing. I wasn’t really the praying type, (well, the Saints down by 14 with 3:30 on the clock, that kind of praying was what I did, not the spiritual kind) and though I appreciated the kind words that would wrap up each meeting, I somewhat felt extremely disconnected during these moments.
“Let us pray,” Father Eddie said, marking the ending to one of our final meetings as he put his arms around Katherine and me in a small huddle.” Then, quietly, he sang.
“Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.”
My world shook, my outlook changed, and heart felt incredibly full.
He had sung, perfectly, one of the most important Jewish prayers. As he started singing a shock went through me. My instinct was to join him in song but I stopped myself for one reason – hearing him sing the prayer was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. I just wanted to take it in. It wasn’t that he was a great singer, it was the beauty that he had learned this prayer, in between the time we saw him last, and wanted to share it with me.
Right there I learned the power of what a moment could do. In a situation where I was compromising, in a foreign place, far spiritually from where I had come and belonged, I suddenly felt connected and safe.
He brought me back. I was home.
“Amen,” I said, “Amen.”
Before the ceremony commenced on my wedding day, I had several moments to reflect on the journey that had brought me to that point. I sat down and prayed.
“Forgive me,” I asked, eyes closed hard. Through my head spun regretful memories of the past six months, times where the anxiety of the wedding had caused me to say, and do, things that weren’t in my character to people I loved.
I was flawed. I always knew but it became clearer to me during the past few months. Yet, through all my flaws and mistakes, I was someone that made Katherine, someone incredibly beautiful inside and out, so very happy.
“God is present in your love,” Father Eddie once told us, “because he draws the two of you together.”
When I lifted my head again I felt as at peace as I had ever felt. I felt in awe of the day and what was going to happen. Those feelings filled me as I stood in the front of the church watching my sisters walk down the aisle, arm in arm, with their husbands. I had never seen them look so beautiful. If nothing else, if you are imagining your wedding, you have those magic moments to look forward to. There is nothing quite like being the groom as the wedding procession starts. With each step people that you love, and who love you, have their moment, while you get to stand at the front and take it all in.
Take it in. Do it. Let yourself go. Feel everything. Be proud. Raise your shoulders higher and higher and smile as your best man walks down the aisle and stands next to you. Understand that all of the strain, hard work and compromise that you’ve done has led you to this point. Be so glad you didn’t just follow a list, that you put yourself into this and embraced it. Be proud to be you.
There was complete silence, the crowd stood and we all looked at the back stained glass doors. I heard the trumpet – it called out for attention and respect. The doors opened, the afternoon light shined through, she appeared arm in arm with her dad, and I felt something stronger than I had ever felt reverberate through me.
I was so damn proud to be that woman’s man. I was so, so lucky. I was so proud to be me.
She wanted so badly to have that moment. And she had it. She was so perfect.
I gasped for air and couldn’t find it. I looked down, then back up, and could barely see. My eyes were full of tears – tears of joy and pride.
I had found a way to put aside my selfish thinking for someone I loved.
She deserved it. She had never looked more beautiful and I had never loved her so much.
Father Eddie was brilliant. He described us, and our sessions, to all of our guests.
“Where do I start when I talk about Katherine and Daniel?” he opened. “I’ve grown so close to them. They have worked so hard to make this day as special as possible.”
Katherine and I held hands throughout the ceremony. We listened to Father Eddie lead the congregation in both Catholic and Jewish prayers, including “The Lord’s Prayer” and the “Sh’ma.” He explained the significance of each and asked the parishioners to take part in both.
“I want to hear you,” he said, as the church was filled with joined voices of prayer.
“Let us use Daniel and Katherine as an example of how love can unite those from different backgrounds.”
A wedding can take your breath away and it’ll happen when you aren’t expecting it. Contrary to popular belief, they are far from being just for the bride – they are for everyone. The day will come and go and you’ll never have complete control over it. Still, it’s still worth putting everything that makes you “you” into it. I wanted to take everything it had to offer. I couldn’t do that by trying harder, I did it by learning to let go.
I was all in.
After our first dance I asked for the microphone and Katherine joined me as we raised a glass. I looked out at the crowd and didn’t feel anything but respect for them. I didn’t want to dance, or eat, or drink. I just wanted to share what I was feeling with them.
“I could go on and on and say a million things right now,” I said, “but as I look out here and see all of your faces I just have to one thing and I’m going to say it again and again because it’s that important.”
I looked down at the floor, found my strength, and once again spoke as my voice quivered.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being here with us right now. You can’t possibly understand how much we appreciate this and what this means to us. You were here for us and we will always be there for you.”
I felt so very grateful that we had this moment because of those who surrounded us. It was all so good.
We were home.
I had a million hugs that night. I hugged everyone and I hugged them hard. I hugged my family, my friends, the bartender, George the photographer and his assistant. I even went up to people I didn’t know and hugged them before saying hello. They all smiled and hugged back. If you were there that night you got a hug. I even hugged the Uber driver who took us home.
The most important hugs came from two men whom I admire so much. The first came from Father Eddie, and the second came from my dad. He grabbed me through the crowd, hugged me tight, and told me how much he loved me.
“This is you at your best, son. I’m so proud of you.”
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