The Father of the Bride

Now she’s all grown up and it’s your honour to walk down the isle and explain to everyone how much she means to you, I can feel the tears…
Picture of Oliver Lucas

Oliver Lucas

Published 06 Sep 2023

It doesn’t seem like five minutes since you were in the hospital (or perhaps the pub) celebrating the arrival of your little girl. Now she’s all grown up and setting off on a new chapter of her life with the person who is now the number one man in her world. So all of a sudden it’s her big day and you want to do your daughter proud. The most lasting memory everyone – including your daughter – will have of you on the wedding day will be the father of the bride speech you give, so it’s important to get it right.

So how do you do this? What needs to be in there to ensure everything that is expected of you is delivered? Well that is where SpeechMate comes in. We ensure we get to know you, your daughter and your relationship before using this knowledge to tailor a bespoke speech that will come from the heart. We will take all those many thoughts swirling through your head, sift out the best and order them in a coherent, emotive speech. There’s a lot to fit in so allow our professional writers to take on your stresses and worries so when the big day comes everyone – not least your daughter – will think you are Daddy Cool.

Father and a teary bride

GETTING STARTED

Distilling a lifetime of memories into less than 10 minutes or so takes some doing. If you said all that you wanted to about your daughter, no doubt the wedding venue would need to be booked for a week. The trick is to find the words that say the most and deliver them in a punchy, flowing way that will keep everyone engaged. This can seem a daunting task, so the first task is not to get writing in a blind panic, but sit down and ask yourself some questions.

What has your daughter achieved in life? What sort of woman has she become/child was she? What makes you proud or her? Do you share any particularly special memories?  There are others too, but find a few answers to each of these and you have the basis of a speech already. Keep notes and before too long you will have plenty to pick through – then is the time to be ruthless. Decide what makes the grade and what gets thrown on the cutting room floor. Are there any common themes running through your thoughts? Could these be used to tie your speech together to get that flow you are looking for?

TONE AND CONTENT

It might be your daughter’s big day but when it comes to speaking in front of the entire guest list all she has to say is ‘I do’. As father of the bride you have to give an entire speech, so it’s a big day for dad too. While it’s all about her for the rest of the day, for a few minutes when you speak it’s about you and your daughter and your relationship. So you want to do it justice.

That being the case it’s important to strike the right tone with your content. It’s the best man who goes for the jugular with his speech the father of the bride has to be more gentle with any jokes and mix it with as many things to make the crowd go ‘aww’ as to have people fall off their seat laughing. That’s not to say there can’t be jokes at the bride’s expense, just ones that highlight her quirks rather than her shortcomings.

For example if she’s hyper-organised and has to have everything just-so, alluding to this is fine. But if she can’t have more than a few drinks without falling down drunk, that’s probably something best left unsaid on her wedding day.

Whatever characteristics she has, whether comedy, charming or something to admire, a few real-life examples to illustrate them will make your speech more meaningful. While getting bogged down in you-had-to-be-there type detail is to be avoided, a bit of reminiscing is allowed. All families have special memories that are part of their bond. It could be when you sat on a cliff eating fish and chips as you watched the sun set over the sea or the time your daughter tricked you into going on an extreme rollercoaster by telling you it was a family ride.

Another source of comedy that can cause just the right sort of embarrassment for you daughter is what she was like as a child. What daft ideas did she have? Which ridiculous parent lies you told her did she believe? What silly ‘out of the mouth of babes’ things did she say that embarrassed you?

Of course all this was a long time ago come her wedding day. She is now an adult with her own life, challenges and successes. Your speech needs to reflect this. Talk about her achievements and qualities, whether that be personal or professional. How has she changed as she matured into a fully-fledged adult? Again, the more you can do this with real-life examples, the more heartfelt it will seem. If something you think of makes you feel a little pang of fatherly pride the chances are it will hit the right note with the audience.

SHOULD I TRY AND BE FUNNY THOUGH?

There’s no better feeling than dishing out a one-liner and everyone collapsing in hysterics. Equally, there’s nothing worse than doing the same and being greeted with a deafening silence. So as the father of the bride do you try and be funny or play it safe?

Usually you will go first and in terms of comedy it’s the best man who expected to deliver, so really in this respect you are the warm up act. Therefore you needn’t feel pressured into being funny, people will be happy with sentiment from the father of the bride. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pepper in a few jokes, just keep them to the right sort. A simple rule is never stray far from ‘laugh with’ territory and never wander over as far as ‘laugh at’.

The thing is though, you’ve seen your daughter as a helpless baby, a wilful child and for many years where she was too young not to say the first thing that came into her head. There’s a comedy goldmine there for a father of the bride which is hard to ignore. Especially when you can be fairly certain that, within reason, it all being a long time ago gives you a bit of licence.

In short, it’s up to you whether you want to go for a bit comedy. Just don’t be put off by thinking, ‘what if no one laughs’, if you put a bit of thought into it they will.

CHECKLIST OF DOS AND DON’TS

Things to remember:

Mention mum too. Acknowledge there are two parents who brought up their daughter with a few kind words. Even if the two of you are not on good terms.

Illustrate your speech with real life examples. While these need to be short and snappy it will make your words more meaningful. Don’t just tell everyone your daughter is brilliant – tell them why!

Talk about your feelings. Even if you’re not normally comfortable doing so, this is the occasion you get a free pass to wear your heart on your sleeve.

Introduce yourself. Most people should know who you are but not necessarily what your name is! A bit of self-deprecation with a joke at your expense doesn’t hurt either.

Prepare. Once you have your speech practice, practice, practice. Then practice some more.

Things to absolutely avoid:

The ‘you had to be there’ trap. Some reminiscing is fine but any stories should be told in a compact way that people can relate to.

Rambling. Few people know the bride like you do or have as much to say about her, the trick is to sift out the best bits. Don’t tell everyone everything about her as things will start to drag.

Be mean about the groom. Even if you don’t like him, it would seem your daughter does. Presumably his own family do too. So insulting him, however warranted you feel it would be, will get a fair few people off-side.

Embarrass the bride. Before talking about your daughter, think first. Would she want people to hear this? If you think the answer could be no then leave it out.

Get drunk first! No matter how great a speech you’ve written it won’t sound good if you’re slurring your words and swaying.

STRUCTURE

There are several parts to a father of the bride speech and each needs attention, ideally written so one merges seamlessly with the next.

  • Introduce yourself and welcome everyone. Is there a joke or one-liner to get the crowd laughing early?
  • Thank yous. It’s your daughter’s big day but there may well be a few other people to mention.
  • Your daughter! The main subject and her journey from your little girl to the woman who has just got married.
  • The groom. There is another person getting married today and he’s just become your son in law! He needs a little bit of appreciation.
  • The wrap up. Some funny or thoughtful advice to the newly-weds and a toast as they begin their life together as man and wife.

INTRODUCTION

TO kick off it’s simple. Even though most people should know who you are (being the oldest one dressed to match the groom narrows it down a bit), introduce yourself. If only to bridge the gap between being ‘Sarah’s dad’ or ‘Karl’s father-in-law’ to actually being known by your own name. A bit of self-deprecation doesn’t hurt either, for example if you are nervous say so or even make a joke out of it. An already generous crowd will be even kinder if you show your self-effacing side or talk a little about the emotions you are feeling.

Remember, wedding guests are the people who mean the most to your daughter and her new husband, so they have helped make the occasion special for them. Often at considerable expense and effort, albeit with a nice meal and disco as a reward. So welcome them and let them know you are grateful.

An example: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this very special occasion. For anyone who really hasn’t paid any attention today let me introduce myself, I’m (name) and I’m the father of this beautiful bride. Or as far as the speeches go, the warm up act. On behalf of my daughter and her new husband thank you all for coming and sharing in their happiness, it really makes the day even more magical for them to have you all here. “

THANK YOUS

An endless list will bore guests but there are other people who have played a significant role in your daughter’s life who don’t have the chance to speak. The obvious one is her mum. Although tradition dictates it’s the father of the bride who speaks, she has two equally important parents. Acknowledging this with a few kind words will be appreciated. Even if the two of you are not on good terms it doesn’t matter, now is not the time for bad will.

Likewise there are two families involved in the wedding so we can’t forget the groom’s side. After all they are a group of people who – all being well – you will now be closely linked with for the rest of your life. A nod to this and a thank you for welcoming your daughter into their family is the etiquette.

These two are a given but there may be others that have been a significant presence for your daughter who deserve a quick mention. It’s finding a happy medium between not getting bogged down and not forgetting anyone important.

An example: “Although today is all about the bride and groom there are a few other people to mention who have also been a big part of these celebrations. Firstly, (groom’s parents) and the rest of his family for welcoming (bride) to the (surname) clan. I know she thinks a lot of you and I’m grateful for how you’ve treated her. (raise a glass)

“Thank you also to my wife (name) for being a wonderful mum to our girl. Tradition has it that I’m the parent that gets to speak today but I know she is every bit as proud as me and wants(bride) to know how much she is loved.”

The trick is to thank people in relation to what they have done for your daughter as that then leads nicely onto the main part of your speech, which is of course….

YOUR DAUGHTER

And so to the most important person. It may be several decades since she was born but you can bet the time has flown so you probably still remember her birth like it was yesterday. Talk about it and how you felt. This was the day your life changed forever and the first step on the road to today.

Clearly, much will have happened since then. What has you daughter achieved through her life and what sort of woman has she become? Talking about these things and how proud they make you will be heartfelt and mean a lot to your daughter. Even if you’re not normally comfortable talking about how you feel, this is the occasion you get a free pass to wear your heart on your sleeve.

There will also be the chance to take a little trip down memory lane. What special occasion(s) have you shared that you look back on fondly? If you have happy memories of something, chances are your daughter will too. This can also be the chance for a little light ribbing. Everyone has their quirks and mis-steps as they grow up, reliving a few of these can add a bit of humour. Particularly if your daughter showed early tendencies for traits she still has as an adult. If she’s an incredibly organised person now, perhaps mention the time there was a bring your child to work day and she tried to redesign the office filing system

An example: “I still remember that day, when (bride) finally came a week overdue. That was officially the last time she was late for anything, anywhere. Even then she arrived quickly after a very short labour while I was still parking the car. Luckily she couldn’t speak otherwise she would have no doubt given me a very stern telling off for not being punctual.”

Another example: “I’m sure (groom) will understand what I mean when I say (bride) has always been a focussed woman who knows her own mind. And as I’ve watched her grow up this has been a good thing. Whether it be her studies at school, caring for other as a nurse or her new hobby of baking perfect-looking, delicious cakes. Everything (bride) does she throws herself into with a determination to be the best she possibly can. And as a parent that’s all you ever want to see your child do.”

THE GROOM

Usually dads at least quite like their son-in-law (more later for those who don’t!). Assuming you are with the satisfied majority it should be fairly easy to find something positive to say.  Touch on the groom relatively briefly in your speech. Pick one or two characteristics to speak nicely on, talk about him in relation to your daughter and say why they make a good couple.

A memory from the first time you met this guy can possibly add a little humour. Were you less than impressed because he supported a rival football team? Did he turn up in a death trap boy racer car that you would never want to trust your daughter’s safety to?  All amusing but fairly gentle stuff that was probably a long time ago so is safe ground. Also, it gives you a chance to tell everyone how he won you round and then transition into those reasons why you (and your daughter) like him.

An example: “So it takes quite a man to win (bride’s) heart but in (groom) I think she has met her match. Most dads take a while to come round to their daughter’s choice of partner and when I found out (groom) was a Manchester United fan I have to say I wasn’t impressed.

“But I quickly warmed to him, he is the best thing to have ever happened to (bride). (Groom) has a great sense of fun, would do anything for (bride) and has earned our complete trust to be her husband. (Groom), you have been an important part of this family for some time but I am delighted to officially welcome you to it today.“

Lastly, don’t forget to mention him in your toast at the end. Speaking of which…..

WRAPPING THINGS UP

And so can we end things on a high? We’ve paid tribute to the bride, said some nice thing about the groom, a good way into the finish is to put the two of them together. Why do they make such a good, well-suited couple? Do they have plenty in common or is it more their different personalities complement each other? Either way, the two of them plan to spend the rest of their lives together, this is the part where you endorse that decision.

An example: “I’ve no doubt (bride) and (groom) are two people that were made for each other. They make a great team, value the same things in life and whenever you see them together it’s obvious they are madly in love.”

Having done this then the final act is the toast, ideally to include some fatherly advice before sincerely wishing the happy couple all the best for married life. This can be deep and meaningful or have a bit of humour sprinkled in. It can be your own words or a particularly pertinent quote. One way to finish on a memorable note is to use the call back technique – ie refer to something previously mentioned in the speech. One father of the bride speech I heard was for a daughter who wanted to be a hairdresser when she was little. Consequently, when adults’ were not watching she would frequently take scissors to other children’s hair and completely butcher a previously good style.

An example: “I think that’s about enough from the warm up act other than to pass on some fatherly advice to the newly-weds, as is tradition. The best I can do is say marriage is always about give and take, occasionally about biting your lip and, in (groom’s) case, never ever letting (bride) near your hair with scissors.

“Remember that and you are set for a long and happy life together. Everybody, to the bride and groom.”

LENGTH

WHEN it comes to speeches, one of the most discussed topics is how long should one be. For something that is, to a large extent, a matter of opinion a surprisingly large amount of this discussion is presented as absolute fact. A common thing you hear is, ‘keep it short, no one’s ever left a wedding complaining the speeches weren’t long enough’. This may or may not be true, but that sort of sentiment works both ways. Equally, no one’s ever said, ‘that film the Godfather was alright but it would have been better if they’d kept it under an hour’.

We’re not saying that you grab the mic and give a three hour plus epic. And we’re certainly not suggesting that you go all Don Corleone and start threatening people for ‘coming to my daughter’s wedding day and showing me no respect’. Our point is, if (but only if) you have the quality of material then there’s nothing wrong with making things a little longer. Six to eight minutes is often the figure quoted for a father of the bride. This is absolutely fine, particularly if you dislike public speaking or feel you don’t have much to say. But should you have the amusing stories, the emotive tributes and well-written, fluid words then why is 10 minutes, or even slightly more, too long? The audience won’t think this, they’ll be too busy enjoying it, so why be bound by other people’s supposed ‘facts’?

While 10-12 minutes is as far as you’d probably want to go, this gives you a little more flexibility than is often made out. The important thing is how much quality do you have? Within reason let this be your guide to quantity.

STORY TIME

There’s a balance to be struck when it comes to anecdotes. You’re going to say how wonderful your daughter is, but reeling off a bunch of complimentary words is less of a speech and more of a list. What adds to the impact is a story or instance that shows her brilliance. For example, you could simply say that your daughter is kind-hearted, or you could also mention how she spends Christmas Day cooking turkey dinners for elderly people to illustrate the point.

That said, not everything translates to those who were not there at the time. Ideally, any story should be quick to get to the point or payoff. Some stories have mishaps and hilarity all the way through, others just have what is essentially background then the punchline. If your anecdote falls into the latter category deliver said punchline as quickly as possible.

The other way to do it is to spot a theme across several stories and combine the punchlines from them. People will probably know if your daughter is someone who struggles to turn up on time, for instance. Mention this trait and then give a few one-liners of her greatest hits of lateness. Has she ever missed an exam? Held up a plane as she’s still checking her six bags in? This can give your speech a sharp, punchy feel and help move it swiftly along.

WHAT IF YOU DON’T REALLY LIKE THE GROOM!?

“Don’t think of it of losing a daughter, think of it as gaining a son.”

We’ve all heard this saying to console a father of the bride but whether or not it works really depends on the sort of ‘son’ you are gaining. Imagine the poor man whose daughter Carrie brought home Boris Johnson and said: “Father, this is the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.” It’s unlikely said father threw his arms round Boris and gushed, ‘brilliant, welcome to the family, son’.

With any luck your new son-in-law won’t be quite the same slippery fool with such a casual approach to honesty but it’s possible you won’t really like him. Or at least have serious doubts whether he’s good enough for your precious daughter. So what does that mean for your speech? You have to, as a minimum, briefly mention him, so how do you go about it?

The first option of lying through your teeth and saying what a great guy he is should be ruled out. You’ll fool no one  and it’ll come across as insincere. Likewise, not mentioning him at all can be ruled out. Sometimes what you don’t say can be as telling as what you do and, again, it won’t go unnoticed. Especially as his parents will probably be there – and they may have a very different view of him to you! What goes without saying is the total honesty option is the worst of the lot. Fun as it’d be to tell everyone what an untrustworthy loser he is who you’d like to take out, it’d probably end with you being the one running for your life!

The happy medium is to talk about how much your daughter loves him and how happy he makes her. Or at the very least how you are trusting him to take care of your precious daughter. Wrack your brain (or even ask someone who knows him well) for at least one good character point and spin that. If he’s professionally successful, talk about how he has the ambition and drive that means he’ll look after his family well, for example. It’s positive and you mean it, kind of.

It still doesn’t really mean you’ve gained a son, but you have at least gained someone who’ll be on your side in an argument over whether the footy goes on TV!

QUOTES AND WELL-WORN PHRASES

Plenty of public speakers like to open or finish by quoting someone else’s (often well-known) words. The thinking is that if something said some time ago is still popular and relevant then it must be good, right? Well yes and no. A popular example is advising the happy couple that, ‘love isn’t about finding someone you can live with, but finding someone you can’t live without’. Something like this is fine as it’s a nice sentiment but it will lose some of its impact because people have heard it plenty of times before. It’s not quite ‘it’s been an emotional day even the cake is in tiers’ for being brilliant once but now a cliché. However, you should definitely strive for a bit of originality.

One idea is to take a well-known quote and give it a knowing twist related to the bride and groom. For example, a common finish is to urge the newly-weds ‘never go to bed on an argument’. Should one of the happy couple be known for their snoring, then add in, ‘because you’ll get twice as mad when (groom’s) snoring keeps you awake’.

Another alternative is to quote some fitting lyrics sung by your daughter’s favourite band. People may well have heard them before, but not in this context and it’s much more personal to her. Or try a play on words with some of their famous songs.  Should your daughter be a Beatles fan, for instance, then marriage is a Long and Winding Road but so long as you don’t dwell on Yesterday then All You Need is Love to make sure You Can Work it Out. Granted, the last song is We Can Work it Out but you are allowed a little artistic licence!

PREPARATION

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made with any speech, whether it be at a wedding or anywhere else, is a lack of preparation. Most commonly for the father of a bride, the belief that as a dad he knows his daughter so well it’ll be easy to talk about her. Yes it will be, too easy in fact. So this usually results in a long, rambling and frankly boring speech that fails to do the special moment justice. Even excellent and practiced public speakers should resist the over-confident urge to ‘just wing it’. Actually excellent public speakers are usually so because they never do this. They prepare. A lot.

Once you have a speech you are happy with, the key is having plenty of time to practice. Get familiar with it so it becomes as second nature, like your favourite story you like to tell in the pub. If necessary, practice in front of someone – whether it be your wife or a friend. Their feedback is worth listening to as they are exactly the sort of person who will be in the audience come the day itself. If you know them well they will probably be honest with you if things are not quite right, which in the long run is invaluable. Also it will get you used to speaking in front of people, admittedly a lot less than at the wedding but it still helps break down any barriers of self-consciousness.

Solo practice in front of the mirror is good too. Speak out loud so you can feel how the words sound as you deliver them. If there’s anything that looks good in writing but not so much when spoken this is your chance to find out. However you do it, get to know your speech inside out it will increase your confidence when it comes to delivering it. So now for the final part……

DELIVERY AND CONFIDENCE

So after all the hard work is done, here’s the big moment. You’ve got a great speech – now to deliver it in style. Let’s start with the obvious question – should you ease those nerves with a few drinks? The answer is a couple of settlers to calm you down is fine but any more and you risk crossing the line from Dutch courage to Dutch disaster. So be careful! And remember probably the best way to ease nerves is, as previously stated, rigorous preparation.

Another thing to remember as a nerve easer is that you have an audience with a lot of good will towards you. Also, and this isn’t entirely unrelated, an audience that has been drinking for a lot of the day. The opposite of a tough crowd. Really you are in the same boat as a young child who has just been bought a joke book and tries to tell a few gags at a family do. Invariably everyone laughs. Firstly, because they like the child and want to encourage him/her rather than make them feel bad. Secondly, because the threshold of what makes people genuinely laugh is much lower due to who that person is and the role they have within the group. In short remember, everyone there will want to like what you say!

Nonetheless, on the day there’s nothing wrong with having some cue cards as a reminder or even a copy of the whole speech printed off. If your mind goes blank momentarily, this will help you get back on track.  But it’s important not to sound like you are reciting from a script as this can be a little wooden. The ideal is to almost be like a news reader. They do literally read the news – but don’t sound like it. Preparation means they have a smooth delivery to seem like they are calmly talking to you from memory. In fact the perfect father of the bride speaker would be Sir Trevor McDonald – he’s the man to aspire to!