My daughter’s non-traditional wedding

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 22, 2015 – 12:00am

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The newlyweds: John & Ala Buencamino exchanged vows at Observatory Hill near The Rocks. Photo by Alfredo Estrella

In October last year, Lydia sent me a Facebook message saying she was preparing dinner in our house in Glenwood, Sydney for friends. I was in Manila then.

After a few hours at about dinner, Sydney time, my Skype started to ring. When I answered, I saw my daughter Ala and her boyfriend John Buencamino having dinner with Lydia and my son Mio. They all had big grins on their faces. Ala and John wore Cheshire Cat smiles that hinted at a surprise about to unfold. After a few awkward moments, John spoke. He informed me that he and Ala had decided to get married. As much as I had a hint that he was going to say that, it still caught me by surprise.

That night after the Skype conversation, I remembered how I had done the same thing. I did not ask for Lydia’s hand in marriage; Lydia and I informed her parents that we were getting hitched. And I also said the exact same thing my father-in-law said to me decades earlier. I told Ala and John that I had always imagined how the experience would be, and here it was.

I mulled over the fact that I had just given my approval for John to marry my daughter via Skype! I smiled at the modernity of that. It did not occur to me that it was a signal of how non-traditional the wedding was going to be.

Last March 15, at 10 a.m. Sunday, the wedding took place. It was at Observatory Hill near the famous Sydney landmark area The Rocks. It was not in a church or chapel; it was in a gazebo in a public park surrounded with huge old trees. There was no priest or judge to officiate the wedding. In their place was a woman “celebrant” (one who officiates weddings) whom Ala and John had contracted for the event.

Her name was Lucy Suze Taylor, a very nice, confident woman who had legally officiated many weddings before. She did her job with love, and inspired a sense of communal feeling and participation from everyone. She was serious when she needed to be but also expressed some levity at the right times. I could tell that she loved what she was doing and gave extra effort and care to make the ceremony meaningful.

The words spoken at the marital ceremony by Lucy were a collaborative effort between the couple and the celebrants. Her statement contained only a few words from scripture (Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind…”). There was no mention of any deity. In place, there was poetry (“I carry you in my heart” by e.e. Cummings), light humor and deep expressions of love coming from the heart of John and Ala which, strangely, despite the absence of any religious traditions, had the tone of solemnity and sacredness.

One concession to tradition was the use of the cord placed over them during the marriage rites. The rite was touching, simple and had a trueness and authenticity that left almost everyone on the verge of tears. The overflowing love between the couple and that showered upon them by their friends was quite palpable. Their promise to love each other unconditionally was real and spoken with commitment.

Upon the pronouncement by celebrant Lucy that they were now officially married, the song When I Met You which I wrote for Lydia played as the couple kissed.

Everything about the planning and execution was both sensible and simple. The couple rightly chose to not splurge on the wedding and reception. They knew that the more important thing was the life after the wedding day. They showed financial restraint, but the few things they spent on were all worth it.

It did not have the feeling of a Manila or a Filipino wedding. No birds coming out of a bell, etc. No long entourage nor VIP table. More than having any visual theme, there was a sincerity and simplicity. It was wonderful in its directness and uncomplicatedness. And love was all over it.

Ala’s wedding gown was something she had found online. It was a beautiful one-of-a-kind vintage re-structured dress from old lace dresses and slips. It was further enhanced in Manila by Lydia’s long-time friend and couturier Steve de Leon who gifted her with an old-fashioned veil and an antique lace slip from his collection.

The “brides mates” were two of her closest “Sydblings” (“siblings” in Sydney), Eliza Hos and Luke Mosely, and two of her closest friends Jenn Simons Castillo and Trina Epilepsia from Manila. The flower girls were her niece and godchild Ananda and her best friend’s daughter, Lucy. Her maid of honor was her sister Erica. Her brother Mio stood as her witness.

The reception was in a pub called Miss Peaches in a quaint old building in Newtown, an artists’ hub in Sydney. Ala made sure there were no long tables with white cloth and the usual formal settings. Instead there were small tables bedecked with colorful paper flowers all lovingly made by her and set in recycled coffee cans she had wrapped with retro brand labels. She also made lace paper buntings which hung from the ceiling.

The guests consisted of a few relatives who were living in Sydney, several relatives who flew in from the US and the Philippines, and their diverse Sydney friends.

There was a lot of animated conversation, wild dancing, drinking (open bar), eating and loud merrymaking. The menu was Southern “soul food” — pulled pork sliders, jambalaya, mac and cheese balls, mushroom sliders, chicken and popcorn in cups, etc. The cake was made by Ala’s friend in Sydney while she made her own cake toppers.

As much as I was an integral part of the whole scene as father of the bride and as an in-law, I was also an observer. I watched how my daughter and her husband John creatively expressed themselves in their wedding and reception. It was clear that the whole thing was their bold expression of who and what they were all about. After all, Ala and John are both artists. She is a painter/illustrator and he is an actor who does Shakespearean plays, indie work, videos and the like. And their playful artists’ spirits danced away.

As the bride’s father, I must admit that I was initially a bit concerned that the whole ceremony might turn out to be rich in new age fluff but with little substance. Or it might be merely modern for the sake of being modern and hip. But as I sat through it, I felt the richness and depth of two people in love. I appreciated how every word spoken during their vows was deliberate and I admired how well thought out everything was. Of course! How could I even doubt? Ala is, after all, a very thoughtful person whose sense of appropriateness is always spot-on.

When she arrived at the foot of the hill, Lydia and I walked up with her only part of the way to the gazebo at the top. She then walked alone towards John who was waiting by the stairs. It was her statement that her decision to marry this man was completely her own.

All throughout the wedding and the reception, my tears flowed quite often. If I wasn’t crying I was always on the verge of it. Undoubtedly, they were tears of joy. I did not feel a sense of loss at all about “losing a daughter” as I thought I would. I actually felt great pride that my daughter and her husband had found their own personal understanding of what love was and what it can do when they commit to it forever. After all, love is the very meaning and purpose we live for. And yes, I had gained a son. John is quiet, strong, perceptive, and adores Ala in every way.

Lydia and I felt a sense of accomplishment, too, at seeing how Ala and our two kids Erica and Mio have turned out to be fine human beings. They are all independent, unconventional, responsible, passionate and lovable.

During my speech as father of the bride at the reception, I told them that marriage was like signing a blank check not just financially but also psychologically, physically, emotionally, and in all ways. Unlike a regular love affair, which is not really always meant to last, marriage is a decision of two people to experience this lifetime as one, and on to forever. It is not easy. It is both an ordeal and a privilege.

One might say it is a shot at eternity. And it can only be done with commitment, passion and the sense of adventurous exploration that brings people to ever deeper, greater love.

To John Buencamino and Ala Paredes: May you be great partners in pursuing your dreams. May you have children. May you prosper. And may you always live with passion and discover the secret dimensions of love allowed to a few who do make it to eternity.

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Photo by Alfredo Estrella