Origin story

This Section is intended for anyone who might be wondering how this website came to be, who isn’t afraid of sagas, and who has a spare 10 minutes or so.

After all – I’m a pretty old fellow, so what would I know about weddings ?

Well once upon a time I was between wives.  My first wife left me after 24 years of marriage, but in the worst possible way.  Yes, she died on me.

About 3 years after that I met a possible contender for wife no.2.  Her name was Thi, and she was originally from Vietnam, but had lived in Australia for over 20 years (so we’re not talking about mail-ordering !).  Things went well, and after a 3 year relationship we decided to marry (or, to be more accurate, her family decided it was time for us to marry – apparently there were limits to how long it was respectable in Vietnamese Australian culture to live in sin for).

Not only did the family decide that we should marry, but they were good enough to pick the date for us (although there was some mild subtlety involved, as we were told that Thi’s oldest brother would be visiting from overseas during a particular week about 3 months into the future, and there was only one weekend in that week).  

 

So, we were going to get married.  But how ?

By the way, the “where” was pretty much a given, as Thi knew the owners of a suitable reception venue, and we knew we could get a good deal there.  (Just incidentally, it also happens to have the best views of any wedding reception venue in all of Melbourne, if not Australia, and superb food and staff.)

At first we were just going to have an Aussie wedding with Vietnamese tinges, but again there was some family intervention, and it became clear that the “tinges” would have to be beefed up considerably.  That meant that the original venue wasn’t suitable.  The only suitable place that was readily available was Thi’s place.  But there were 2 problems:  1) by tradition the Vietnamese ceremony had to be finished by midday, and we knew that that timing would make it difficult for a lot of our proposed guests to attend; and 2) Thi’s place could only comfortably hold about half the number of people we had on our initial draft guest list.

What to do ?

Somewhere along the way we decided that we would have to have 2 ceremonies: a Vietnamese-style ceremony before lunch that would segue into a smorgasbord banquet at Thi’s place, and an Australian ceremony in the late afternoon that would segue into a reception at our original choice of venue.

I was given the task of arranging the Australian ceremony, although we planned to use a celebrant who Thi knew.  We contacted the celebrant, met her, and agreed on how the actual wedding ceremony would go.  We planned to just go entirely with the format, vows and words that the celebrant usually used. 

Then fate intervened.

For some reason I had occasion to visit an op shop [for any non-Australians reading this, an “op shop” is a shop that sells second-hand/used/pre-loved goods that have been donated to charity].  That meant that I had to buy some books (well, when I say “had to”, obviously I am speaking as an addict).  One of the books I bought was entitled Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness by Dally Messenger.  It had a photo of Lionel Murphy on the cover, which was primarily the reason I would have bought the book (don’t ask – that’s a really long story as well !).  (For younger, or foreign, readers, Lionel Murphy was an Australian ex-lawyer Australian Labor Party federal politician from the 1960s and 70s who then became a very controversial High Court judge.  While he was Australia’s Attorney-General from 1973 to 1975 he was responsible for some quite momentous legal reforms, including the family law system that we have now.)  The book was in fact a history of the civil celebrant movement, which it turns out Murphy was almost single-handedly responsible for, and which was a world first. 

Somehow or other I got around to reading the book fairly soon after I bought it.  As far as I can recollect, our impending nuptials played no part in my decision to start reading it.  But once I started, I quickly realised that it was possibly extremely relevant to our wedding.

That’s because very early in the book the author stresses the importance of ceremony to humans for cultural, communication and subconscious reasons.

That struck a chord. 

Guess who was about to have a ceremony ?  And when I considered what we were about to have as a ceremony, I realised that while what our celebrant was proposing was all nice and suitable, it was also going to be pretty short, like about 10 minutes tops.  I was also conscious that in contrast with the only 4 non-registry office civil ceremonies I had seen to that point (and that was like at least 20 years ago), neither Thi nor I were planning to choose or write anything of our own.  That was in keeping with the fact that neither of us was in any way romantic.

(By the way, it is also a very strange thing that I have only been to 4 (now 5) non-registry civil wedding ceremonies in my life.  My first wedding was a registry-office wedding, and I have been to 3 other registry-office weddings.  According to statistics 3 out of every 4 weddings in Australia are now non-religious weddings (which, of course, includes registry-office weddings).  The vast majority of the weddings I have been to have been religious wedding ceremonies, which is also strange because hardly anyone I know is particularly religious.)  

 

In view of what I had read, I thought that the least I could do was to try to find a few things that we could have read out at the wedding to both try to flesh it out a bit, and to give the wedding a bit of an “us” flavour.

So, I started having a look at what was available on the Internet.  That quickly became fairly depressing, as I wasn’t finding anything that I thought was even remotely suitable, particularly for 2 non-romantics.  That then prompted thoughts as to whether it wouldn’t be faster to try to produce something myself. 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, or so they say.  I sat down and almost straightaway I started writing what became the piece “Why we are here”.  I think what made writing it so easy was that, not having a poetic bone in my body, I was just happy to let what flowed flow with zero concern as to whether it was in any way poetic.  I pretty much got the whole thing down in one go, and then tinkered with it a bit.  Overall, within about half an hour I pretty much had the finished product. 

The only problem then was that it was a piece that really wouldn’t fit in with anything that our celebrant was planning.  When I looked at again I realised that it was essentially a very short version of why we were marrying.  That then prompted the thought: what would a long version of why we were marrying look like ?  That then prompted a recollection of how Thi and I met, and more particularly, how our first date came about.  I realised that there was a story there that people might be interested in, because it was something that I don’t think that we had ever told anyone about (and that I was still struggling to believe myself).

So I had a go at putting that story on paper.  At some point I then realised that really, if I was going to tell our story then I should really also give a bit of information about our deeper background.  So I wrote a bit about that.  Somewhere along the way I also thought it might be worthwhile mentioning the story of our first night, or more particularly our first morning, together, as that was something that Thi often delighted in reminding me of.  (By the way, in the version that I told I had to sanitise part of the story – the real story was quite a bit funnier.)  

 

I also gave thought to whether at some point I should give the traditional acknowledgement to the traditional owners of the land on which we would be conducting our ceremony.  That gave rise to other thoughts (one of the problems with being a keen reader), which then ultimately became the thoughts with which I finished what I called our “ballad”.  I decided that the acknowledgement of the traditional owners that I had embedded in those final thoughts would be a sufficient and sincere acknowledgement.

Also, as the ballad took shape, I realised that I would have to precede it with a bit of an introduction.  There were clearly some housekeeping things that it would be useful to mention, and then there were a few other things that I thought would help ease those present into what I was planning to do.  In particular, I realised that I couldn’t talk about Thi without first explaining the problem we have with her name. 

For reasons that are now lost in the mists of time, Thi was known by a different name to 3 different groups of people (her family and Vietnamese friends; her Australian friends; and her work colleagues and business associates), even though each of those names was one of her birth names.  We had had to send out our wedding invitations in 3 different versions to reflect this name problem, and I realised that these chickens would come home to roost if I had to mention her in what I was planning to say, and obviously I would have to mention her.

It also occurred to me that it might not be a bad idea to tone down expectations a bit by mentioning how unromantic Thi and I are.  The quotes of hers that I mention in this regard came readily, as she had said them on a number of occasions (and she still trots them out as the occasion demands !). 

By this time I realised that I had a pretty substantial thing going.

As I kept reading Dally Messenger’s book I came across a chapter where he told a story about reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 at a wedding ceremony.  Having a good look at that sonnet, I realised that it would be a good thing to include in our ceremony, and I also realised that the oldest of my soon-to-be step-sons, Edward, would probably be able to do justice to it (which turned out to be so).  That then prompted the idea that I could have maybe a few readers to break up my ballad (and to stop everyone from having to listen to me continuously for a long period).

Somewhere at about this time I was also reminded of a series of pictures and cards from about the 1970s that featured depictions of cute young girls and boys with text that said “Love is…” with the following text being something that was cute or romantic.  I had a look around on the internet for examples, but I couldn’t find anything useful. 

In thinking about my relationship with Thi I realised that there were a few classic Mars/Venus differences that I could think of that we had had to negotiate over the course of our relationship until then.  It then occurred to me that I could try to write my own “Love is” descriptions, but on the theme that love is the sacrifices and compromises that one has to make as a couple.  A few of these came readily to mind, but ultimately it was hard work to come up with enough examples to turn them into a worthwhile reading – in fact it is something that I had to spread over a few weeks, and it was by far the hardest of all the things I wrote for the ceremony to write.  

A couple of weeks out from the ceremony, by which time I had everything finished and was aware of who was available to do possible readings, it occurred to me that my “Love is” reading would work best with 2 readers: my niece Cathie reading out the sacrifices that Thi had had to make, and the youngest of my soon-to-be step-sons, Andrew, reading out my sacrifices.

On the same page of the Messenger book where he tells his Sonnet 116 story, he also mentions the story of how the poem that is now apparently the most read poem at Australian wedding ceremonies was discovered.  The poem is called “Because she would ask me why I loved her”, and it is by Christopher Brennan.  With hope in my heart that I had discovered another suitable reading, I quickly dug up a copy on the Internet, only to quickly realise that it wasn’t the sort of thing I was after.  The interesting thing for me was that the title of the poem was actually a question that Thi had asked me a few months before, and which I had made a bit of a mess of answering (although not so badly as to endanger our relationship – there are actually some advantages in having a non-romantic partner !). 

Then, shortly afterwards, it occurred to me that it might be worth seeing if I could write something in response to that question, and perhaps come up with something that was a bit more respectable than my previous fumbling oral effort.  Again I started the exercise unburdened by any thought that I had to produce anything that was in any way poetic, and again that was very helpful. 

I started by thinking of some of Thi’s most notable features, but then I quickly realised that they were things that were not unique to her.  I think I may have been influenced by the work that I was doing at pretty much the same time on what became my “Love is …” reading.  In particular, the counterpoint structure that I had decided to adopt for that reading probably gave me the idea of having a similar structure for this reading.  Once I had decided that that was a good idea my thoughts came out pretty quickly.

Of course once I started down that path of thinking of features, and then effectively shooting them down, I realised that I would have to finish with something that I couldn’t shoot down.  My first thought was that I would state that I love her because of “you being you”.  It is something that manages to be profound and trite all at the same time. 

Incidentally, although it didn’t occur to me at the time, it has since occurred to me that as I was growing up I often heard the music of Jim Reeves, who is a favourite of my mother’s.  In his early 1960s song “I Love You Because” there is the line “I love you most of all because you’re you”.  I would have heard this song many times.  So, parents, you need to be careful what you expose your children to as they’re growing up !

Anyway, I decided that I should keep the “you being you” because of the profundity, but that I couldn’t leave it as the last thought because of the triteness.  The thinking cap went back on, and it didn’t take me long to come up with my final thought for the reading.  By the way, everything in this reading, including, in particular, this final thought, as with everything that I wrote for the ceremony, is true. 

(So, yes, it really took us 23 emails spread over the course of a week and a shaky 2-hour long phone conversation to get our first date happening, and yes, at our very first meeting Thi offered to get me cake, and then offered me the icing-less remains of her cake.  With respect to the cake I should perhaps mention that while the story is true, it is perhaps not the whole truth.  During the preceding lunch our conversation had at one point got on to some serious topics, and it was Thi’s comments during that part of our conversation that had piqued my interest in her (although her attractiveness and the attractiveness of her personality generally were also factors by that point).  And yes, our poor dachshund has been threatened with being barbequed by Thi on many occasions, although fortunately now that he is in the early stages of dog-equivalent middle age, the supposed toughness of his flesh means that these comments have abated considerably.)

Returning to what became my last reading, I was able to produce an almost complete first version in one go and fairly quickly.  Again, there was some tinkering, but pretty soon I realised that I had another reading, although given its nature it was something that I would have to read.

Now, unfortunately, I was still reading forward into the Messenger book.  Had it occurred to me to go back to check some of the things that I had read, I would have, and should have, re-read his definition of “ceremony”.  On page 4 of the book it states: “Ceremony, primarily is an important and solemn method of communication”.  Oops.  Perhaps if I had re-read the definition I might have felt that I should tone down most of what I had written, but I suspect that it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.  After all, our actual wedding ceremony, the bit where we were following the celebrant’s script, was dead serious and solemn, so really there was no reason why the lead-in couldn’t be a bit more frivolous.  

And without wishing to diss Mr Messenger’s definition in any way, I note that all of the important events in one’s life, being birth, coming of age, marriage and death, are all very much cause for celebration, so I can’t see anything wrong in having fun while doing that celebrating.  (Of course, in the case of celebrations of a life after death, some sensitivity may be needed in determining how one has that fun.)

Returning to my what is clearly now a saga, by this stage I had a 4-part ballad and 4 readings.  The 1st reading really had to precede the ballad, and the last reading really had to finish everything off.  Ideally it would have been good to have had a reading separating every part of the ballad, but given the constraints imposed by the first and last readings, if I wanted to achieve that I was a reading short.  

Obviously it would be good to have another reading, but what ?  Somewhere in the process of contemplating this it occurred to me that perhaps it would be a good idea to acknowledge the person who was responsible for the fact that we could have a wedding in exactly the way we wanted it.  Having read the Messenger book, it was something that I now knew all about, and it was something that pretty much no one else knew about.  Once this idea sunk in, it was very easy to quickly come up with a reading to give effect to it.  Hence, “Thank you  Lionel”.

All that then remained was to find readers for that reading and the first reading.  Two of my nephews, Sean and Luke, were intending to come to the wedding, and they were each happy to read for me.

In fact, once I had the text and the readers sorted, there were still a few other things that needed to be done.  First, of course, I needed to work out how long what I was proposing to do would take.  That involved a couple of read-throughs, but I then had my answer: about 40 minutes.  (Not bad, seeing I started the whole exercise with just a short 1-page reading.  Who could possibly guess that I was a lawyer in a previous life ?)  It is perhaps also worth mentioning that right from the start of the process it had always been my intention that I would be the one doing everything except the first 4 individual readings – circumstances meant that I had done something similar (including attempts at humour) for the funerals of both my first wife and my father, so I thought if I could do something like that on those occasions, it should no problem to do it for a happier occasion.

Next, and notably, I then had to make sure that Thi was happy for me hijack the 40 minutes before the actual ceremony was to occur.  I had to try to get her to agree to what I wanted to do without actually telling her much about what I wanted to do.  I was hoping that the whole thing would be a pleasant surprise for her, but, of course, for that to have a chance of happening, it did actually have to be a surprise.

In fact, Thi was happy to leave things up to me.  I had told her it would be a sort of introduction to the wedding ceremony, and that her sons Edward and Andrew would be involved.  I think that latter fact was why she was prepared to give me the latitude that she gave me.  In fact, apart from a very sketchy outline of what I was intending to do, all that Edward and Andrew knew of my plans was the content of what I had asked them to read.

So, one down and one to go.  Of course the other person who had to be happy with what I was proposing to do was our wedding celebrant.  So, I contacted her and told her I wanted to conduct a 40 minute lead-in to the wedding ceremony.  It turned out that what I was suggesting was something that she had never encountered before in any way, shape or form, and she had been conducting wedding ceremonies for quite some time.  I quickly decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea to frighten her further by giving her too much detail of what I was proposing.  

Overall her initial reaction was cool, almost liquid nitrogen cool.  She strongly suggested that I do what I wanted to do after the ceremony.  I responded that that was not ideal for something that was supposed to be a lead-in.  I didn’t get much further on that first call, although I managed to get her to agree that what I was proposing was a better option than trying to fiddle with her part of the ceremony.

What then happened was that the celebrant contacted Thi, and fortunately Thi was able to convince her to let me have my way.  By the way, we had invited her to stay for the reception/dinner, so strictly speaking the extra time I was intending to take should not have been a factor.  Anyway, by the big day she had accepted that her bit of the ceremony would be delayed a bit and was comfortable enough with that.

And so our wedding day arrived.

The weather was good, and the Vietnamese ceremony went as planned (the planning by the way, had involved considerable work by senior members of the family, but that’s another story for another time – I might also mention here that Thi’s living room had been turned into a fair imitation of a Buddhist temple by the time we had our ceremony).  After the ceremony and photos we then had the planned banquet in Thi’s backyard, another part of the Vietnamese cultural tradition.

In the late afternoon we then headed off to the venue for the Australian ceremony.  Guests were asked to arrive between 5.30 and 6.00 p.m., and shortly after 6.00 p.m. I started my introduction.  All went well and it was well received.  The audience laughed in all of the right places, and a number of them cried as I finished my last reading (that was a great surprise, as it was not something that I ever intended, or had even contemplated). 

We then had the actual wedding.

After the wedding ceremony the wedding celebrant approached me and said that she was glad that I had done what I had done, as it gave the wedding ceremony itself “a great vibe”.   

Fortunately that vibe kept vibeing for the rest of the evening.  Essentially everyone had fun.

Shortly after 7.00 p.m. the first course of dinner was served.  The usual reception stuff then happened.

So, that was that.

By the way, Thi was happy because everyone else was happy.  Being the non-romantic sort that she is, she wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by my declaration of love (unlike most of her close friends, I might add), but she, too, liked the vibe.  During my “presentation” of our ballad she had also delighted in volubly interjecting comments reinforcing the accuracy of some of my self-deprecating comments and descriptions.

I should also mention that she got the biggest laugh of the evening.  It occurred during the evening speeches.  Thi’s father speaks almost no English, so she volunteered to act as his interpreter when he gave his speech.  After a few introductory remarks, he proceeded to list the obligations on me now that I was his daughter’s husband.  He mentioned a few things, and Thi duly translated them.  The obligations were basically along the lines of making sure that I looked after his precious daughter. 

He then mentioned a few more things, and Thi duly translated them.  At that point we already had a fairly long list of obligations on me, and I made a comment along the lines that I had perhaps been a bit lax in letting Thi volunteer to do the interpreting, as the list at that point was entirely one-sided.  Her father then resumed speaking, and when Thi translated, if her translation was accurate, then the list of obligations on me had continued to grow.  Of course by that stage the audience were firmly of the belief that the translation was not accurate, and that the translator was slanting the list in a particular direction, so as soon as they heard even more obligations being placed on me, they laughed.  And when exactly the same thing happened again, they laughed even harder.

Fortunately from my point of view that was the end of the list.

Now most of the audience laughed because in Australian culture no parent would ever just present a one-sided list of obligations on the person marrying their child.  There would almost always be some acknowledgement that the relationship would involve obligations on both parties to the relationship.  And, of course, neither of us could be described as a spring chicken – both of us had seen a bit of what life involves by the time we married.  

I discovered long after our ceremony that the really funny thing about what happened was that Thi had actually accurately translated what her father had said.  In Vietnamese culture it is not unusual for a parent to deliver such a one-sided list.  But then, why spoil a good story … (and this is the first time I have revealed the complete story).

One other thing I might mention in relation to the reception is that Thi and I went to considerable effort to choose and obtain a wedding cake (for reasons I hopefully do not need to explain.)  Our intention had been to have a traditional cake-cutting ceremony at a suitable point in the proceedings.  Unfortunately, for reasons that are still not particularly clear, we somehow managed to forget to actually get around to having such a ceremony.  By the time we realised what had occurred, it was too late to do anything about it.  Fortunately it was still possible to cut the cake up privately and to hand out pieces as guests were leaving.  This was the only thing during the day and evening that didn’t go to plan, so we gave thanks that that was so.

Time passed. One year, then almost another.

At about that point it occurred to me that maybe it might be useful to let more people know what we did, although I now have no recollection of what the catalyst for that thought was.  Of course most of the material I wrote for our wedding is so us-specific that it wouldn’t be of much use to anyone, but I thought the idea behind what we did might well be something that those who are planning to get married in a non-religious ceremony might like to consider. 

On giving that idea more thought I quickly came up with enough material to create a small e-book. 

The reason all that turned into a book so quickly was the fact that I wrote an e-book on a completely different topic last year, and so I was still in book-writing mode.  Unfortunately, as with that book, which also started as a small e-book, as I kept writing I kept writing, and then I kept writing some more, so what was supposed to be a small e-book finished up as a pretty long e-book.

(In case you are thinking that I am deliberately failing to mention more mercenary motives, I note that my first book has yet to become the sensation that it undoubtedly deserves to become, so in fact my experience of e-book publishing is distinctly unmercenary to date, and I have no great expectations that anything is about to change in that respect.  If I can cover my costs, which has yet to happen to book number 1, I will be more than happy.)  

Essentially my wedding book pushes the idea that it is good to have a lead-up ceremony to the actual wedding.  I then spend considerable time looking at what sort of things you might like to include in that lead-up ceremony, and how you might go about doing some of those things.

I learnt with the e-book that I produced last year that it is pretty essential to have a related website, and that the website has to contain substantial associated relevant material that doesn’t double up on what’s in the book.

And so that’s the very longwinded story of how this website came into being.