I went to a wedding over the February Break. My sister’s son, my nephew, got married in Seattle. Four of his friends gave toasts. His father-in-law gave a toast. His mother-in-law gave a toast. His father had given a toast at the rehearsal dinner the night before. I wanted his older sister, my niece, to give a toast. She’s very funny, and she’s known him his whole life. But she declined.
I did not decline. But that’s because no one asked me to give a toast. I, too, have known him a long time, but only by spending a week with him every Christmas. I have seen him outside of the month of December, but those occasions were much more sporadic. Still, while I listened to his four friends from college talk about him, there was a little part of me that wanted to argue. Sure, you lived with him, played sports with him, partied with him, took classes with him, ate with him. But does that mean you really know him? Yes, you’ve stayed friends with him in the 7 years since college. You talk to him. You text with him. You go on trips with him. Okay, I guess you know him about a million times better than I do, so, yeah, it was probably right that you should get the mic at his wedding reception. But there’s still a part of me that thinks the guy who spent 26 Christmases with you deserves at least a moment at the mic.
On the morning of the wedding, lying in bed in a hotel, half awake, half asleep, I composed a brilliant toast. It had just the right blend of wit, wisdom, sentiment, and wit. It was really witty. I would like to share it now…but I can’t remember any details, especially the wit, wisdom, and sentiment parts. I just remember that it was one of my best toasts. It was witty. I actually laughed in my half-awake state. I considered getting up and writing it down, but I was pretty sure I’d remember it.
I vaguely remember how it started. I planned to stand up and not introduce myself, pretending, as one does in a dream, that no one in the room would recognize me. This was for effect, and perhaps so that my nephew could later say that he had no idea who “that guy” was.
It began something like this:
Natanael, it’s inspiring to all of us to see the man you’ve become. You’re poised, polite, thoughtful, intelligent, and you clearly have great taste. We all believe that you’ll be a caring husband and someday a loving father, too. It’s great to hear what a loyal, compassionate, and generous friend you are.
But, I just want to give another perspective. I’m a little concerned that Isabelle and her family might be getting the idea that they’re getting this perfect person, this boy wonder. To be perfectly honest, and I’m not saying your friends weren’t perfectly honest, but to be perfectly frank, you weren’t always so impressive. I grant that this all-facets makeover is remarkable, but allow me to pull back the von Euler veneer (see, that was sort of witty, right?). No, I will not be showing any of your old high school yearbooks or calendar diaries. That would be inappropriate at this occasion. But I do think, at this moment, before we raise our champagne glasses, it’s important to take off our rose-colored glasses. (Nailed it!)
There was a time, Natanael, when I was not so sure about your future. First of all, you were incredibly inarticulate, nothing like the slick speaker you are today. Conversations with you were invariably one-sided. Speaking with you was frustrating. It was as though you didn’t hear a word I was saying. I’d ask you your opinion about, say, Bill Clinton or Dave Matthews, and literally, I got nothing but babbled incoherent responses or giddy laughter. I worried, in those days, about your drinking problem. You have told Isabelle about that, right?
No offense, Tan, but you were also really uncoordinated. A far cry from the accomplished athlete we’re hearing about now. I would sometimes try to get you to join in a game at the soccer field, and you would show little or no interest. You would just sort of flail your arms like you didn’t even know how to navigate the field, never mind understand strategy or the rules.
Those intellectual and physical deficiencies were not the only areas of concern. I had deep misgivings about your social development and character. Isabelle, really, you should know about this. Natanael, when I first met you, you were remarkably spoiled, insisting that others do nearly everything for you. I’m sorry, this is probably not what any spouse wants to hear on her wedding day, but I would be remiss if I didn’t reveal these habits from your past. I remember after the big family dinners, I would sometimes ask you to help with the dishes, and you would just rock back on your lofty perch and utter some sort of incomprehensible excuse, as though there was no need for you to chip in. Very selfish behavior.
Now, Isabelle, I know this sounds really bleak, and you may be having some bridal remorse (again, a bit of wit!), but I guess this story has a happy ending, if you can overlook the checkered past, that is. Fortunately, it seems to have only been a stage. Natanael’s mother and father had insisted that we all be be patient. It turns out that they judged correctly (witty inside joke, cuz they’re both judges). Through a thoughtful training and reprogramming regimen, they believed you could overcome your difficulties. They suggested that I give you some time to outgrow your weaknesses. It wasn’t easy. They plied you with ham and cowboy butter, they negotiated a creative TV contract and encouraged your education in the martial arts, and now, I guess the evidence supports their theory. Apparently all of those shortcomings, verbal, physical, intellectual, social, and ethical, and perhaps most importantly that drinking problem, were tied to the simple fact that you were only nine months old. Perhaps I should have known that.
And so tonight, I have to tell you that I am not just proud, I am also greatly relieved to see your progress. I’m guessing Isabelle is too. Mostly, though, I am filled with wonder at the miraculous way that 26 years of growing, listening, striving, thinking, absorbing, and interacting, can turn a chubby, dependent, babbling, bubble blowing baby into such an impressive human being.
Now that I look back at this, I have a hunch why I was not invited to speak at my nephew’s wedding.