North: Then and now
WASHINGTON — Ten years ago this weekend, our Fox News team was racing north from Baghdad to Tikrit with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. They knew what needed to be done and had a plan for doing it, and all Griff Jenkins and I had to do was cover it and stay out of the way. Given what I’m doing this weekend, covering the war was less demanding, somewhat better-organized and perhaps less dangerous. This weekend, our youngest daughter is getting married.
A decade ago, all I had to do was be in the right place at the right time, get good footage during a gunfight, prepare a report, interview some eyewitness participants, hook up our tiny satellite transceiver, dial up Fox News in New York and file our story. Most of the time, it worked flawlessly — even when Iraqi soldiers surrendered to Griff in the midst of a live broadcast.
My life is no longer that simple. Weddings are far more complicated and fraught with peril than going to war with Marines. Even though this is my third round of being father of the bride, I have not mastered what I need to know and repeatedly fail to carry out my basic orders: “Show up. Pay up. Shut up. And smile.” Worst of all, the women I love — my wife and three daughters — all agree I’m better at going to war than to a wedding.
A decade ago, there were clear lines of command and authority. In our zone of action, Lt. Gen. Jim Conway commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force — more than 30,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers, sailors, Royal Marine commandos and a number of other allies. The 1st Marine Division was led by Maj. Gen. Jim Mattis — heading more than 10,000 troops, infantry, armor, artillery and all manner of support personnel. Everyone knew the chain of command, call signs, radio frequencies, the “battle space” and where to call for help. The generals have scores of officers and senior noncommissioned officers on their staffs to monitor current operations, plan future operations, deliver combat support and provide beans, bullets, bombs and bandages for the troops. Weddings are nothing like that.
First, none of those generals wields anything like the authority of the mother of the bride. She is the arbiter of all things, the undisputed decider in chief. Her battle staff consists of the bride and the bride’s female siblings. They are allowed to provide input, which may be summarily accepted or rejected by the MOTB — because her word is law. Neither the male sibling of the bride nor the father of the bride has a speaking part in any of the battle plans or current operations. Each simply must carry out his orders.
Most of these missions consist of instructions on what needs to be painted, planted, cut, carried, taken away or picked up and brought home with the admonition: “It’s fragile. Don’t drop it.” Last week, shortly after I made the egregious error of offering advice on a tint of paint, one of our friends called the MOTB and asked whether our daughter would like a memento from his collection of rare equestrian equipment. The MOTB asked, “Don’t you also have a collection of antique diving helmets?”
“Yes,” our friend replied, “but why would your daughter want a diving helmet?”
“She doesn’t,” the MOTB answered. “I want you to lend me one so my husband can wear it until the wedding.”
All this “mother power” reminds me that a decade ago, Saddam Hussein promised the mother of all battles when we crossed into Iraq from Kuwait. While we were en route to Baghdad, a major sandstorm brought combat to a halt for nearly two days. The troops dubbed it MOASS — the mother of all sandstorms. The Marines also have this expression: “Indecision is the mother of flexibility.” All of this has been brought home to me as we prepare for “The Big Day.”
But here’s the good news: It’s all going to go off without a hitch. There won’t be any members of the so-called mainstream media hanging around and hoping for something to go wrong. There won’t be a dust storm, sand flies or scorpions. Unlike the places where I have spent the past 10 springs, the air will be full of the fragrance of flowers; all the women will be beautifully attired; and the pastor of our daughter’s church will call on God Almighty to consecrate this marriage.
Peyton, her husband-to-be, is a talented and successful young singer and songwriter. He and my daughter met in elementary school. Before he asked for our daughter’s hand in marriage, he came to us and asked us to bless his request. Before he went to Afghanistan last year, we talked at length about what to expect. It’s his great voice on the audiobook version of my latest novel, “Heroes Proved.”
And then there is the best part: When it’s all over, I’ll be able to kiss the MOTB and tell her what a great job she did pulling it all together. I’ve tried that before — with mixed results. A while back, in an effort to score some points as a largely absentee husband and father, I told her, “I’ve spent much of our 44-year marriage far from home. You have done a magnificent job raising our children.”
She nodded and said, “You’re right. But I’m not finished with them yet.”