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Fathers of the bride need nuptial civilizing

As every prospective bride knows, bookstore shelves groan with manuals of advice for her. How to plan the wedding, what outfits to choose. Even how to include your dog in your wedding (I kid you not).

Mothers of the bride have their own tomes of instruction. Grooms need none: Their sole responsibility, good training for the future, is to stand up straight and speak only when spoken to.

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On the other hand, fathers of the bride, as their daughters politely inform them, are much in need of nuptial civilizing. About practically everything. Yet nobody pens foot-thick sagacities for them.

No matter. Take it from one who's been through it: It's easy. There are only three essentials: Keep the car shined and the grass cut, and don't go anywhere without a generous supply of checks.

A few optional suggestions also come to thought:

* Deem it impossible to take a minute off from work, right up to the hour of the ceremony. That way you won't get enmeshed in such thorny affairs of state as whether the mocha-almond frosting would taste better on the middle or the bottom layer of the wedding cake.

* Buy a stickpin. No one knows why, but all Fathers of the Bride wear a stickpin on their uniform, perhaps so that guests can differentiate them from those penguins that always have cold feet. If possible, buy one with a cap on its pointy end (stickpin, not penguin).

* Attend tractor-trailer driving school, irrespective of whether you consider your daughter a pack rat. Inevitably somebody will have to pilot the rental truck chock-full of her most essential possessions, the equivalent of a six-room house, to the couple's new one-room apartment.

Every father faces some singularly individual request. The last I knew, one father - whose daughter planned a two-hour, horse-drawn plod from church to reception hall - was frantically looking around for a bowling alley to keep the formally clad guests entertained meanwhile.

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The ceremony, of course, pretty much takes care of itself because of the joy of the occasion. Although keeping off the bride's dress and remembering your one-liner are de rigueur. Otherwise, stay to one side and let things chug happily along, pretty much as you'd anticipated.

What you might not have forecast, though, is what happens at your home-sweet-hotel immediately after the reception ends: an exodus that rivals the one in the Old Testament. Within seconds we lost several rooms' worth of guests, including the maid of honor, three bridesmaids, and a nice bearded fellow it turns out nobody knew.

It is, as they say, a singular occasion.

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