L'Oreal Thompson Payton
June 16, 2017 4:10 pm
Kathleen Hertel Photography

For as long as I can remember, my dad has always been my biggest fan. Literally. At 6’2 and 200-something pounds, he can seem a bit intimidating at first glance. But, as my sister and I know very well, he’s actually a teddy bear with a heart of gold — which is why I knew I wanted to share a special moment with just him when I got married.

Growing up, I relished the opportunity to look at my parents’ wedding album — what, with my mom’s long-sleeved gown with the puffy shoulders and my dad’s pseudo-fro (hey, this was the ‘80s, y’all!). They looked so young and so happy, so in love.

My mom would tell me and my sister the story about how our dad cried as she was coming down the aisle (as for my mom’s reaction — well, she’s always been one tough cookie). From a young age, I looked forward to the day when my dad would walk me down the aisle.

After all, he’s the first man I ever loved. And, if we’re being completely honest, he’s probably the reason I remained single while my friends cycled through less-than-stellar boyfriends.

They say you can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats the women in his life. And my dad treated my mom, my sister, and me like royalty.

Yes, I had high standards, but that’s because I refused to settle for less.

So when I met Jeff, I knew he was The One. He shares similarities with dad: cool, calm, and collected. Their patience, especially in dealing with me, is unsurpassed. But, perhaps more important, they both shower me in love and always make me feel safe and protected.

When Jeff proposed, I was all smiles and giggles — until we went to meet my family for lunch, which actually turned out to be a surprise engagement party with my extended family and closest friends. The moment I hugged my dad, that was it, and the ugly-cry commenced.

My dad has always been there for me, whether it was setting up a makeshift camera crew with my uncle as I delivered my valedictorian speech during eighth-grade graduation, or suffering while he sat through an all-day high school cheerleading competition.

There’s also the time he swiftly donated a gym bag from Georgetown University after I was rejected (Loyola was my first choice anyway!), and he’s pretty much read and/or saved every article I’ve written ever, which has been many over the course of my professional career.

In fact, it’s my dad who nurtured my love of writing by encouraging me to add a “book” I’d written about dinosaurs in outer space to my summer reading list at our local library.

(And, in case you were wondering, the title of said book was Dinosaurs in Outer Space — hey, I was 7!)

Sara Press/Getty Images

My point being, my dad helped me realize at a young age that no dream was too big. So of course I wanted to honor him on my special day.

As a former wedding writer for the local newspaper, I was familiar with first looks between the couples, and I thought it would be fun to do something similar with my dad.

How nice would it be to share a quiet moment, just the two of us, before the true hustle and bustle of the day began? Our photographer had talked my fiancé and I into doing a first look due to the timing and location of our ceremony — so why not add my dad to the mix?

After my mom and sister helped me into my dress, and my mom diligently pinned one of my dad’s firefighter patches (my something blue) to my dress, I anxiously awaited the elevator to see my dad for the first time as a bride.

Kathleen Hertel Photography

And as I walked down the steps, all I could think was “don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.” But as soon as I got to the bottom, I ran to hug my dad. He gave me the classic dad pat on the back and told me I look “sporty,” the same compliment he’s given me since I was a little girl. Some things never change.

Kathleen Hertel Photography

He’ll always be my Daddy, my hero, my biggest cheerleader, and my greatest supporter. I’ll always be his little girl.

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