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Once upon a time... the fairytale wedding of Pierce and Ghazal

She arrives at the 17thCentury manor house in a carriage drawn by two massive jet black horses. Helped by her tall, handsome father, she climbs the grand entrance steps to Carlton Towers, the Yorkshire home of the Duke of Norfolk.

Attendants straighten her long train, and she begins her walk down the aisle looking like a fairy tale princess. Blonde, tiny, with a radiant smile.

At the end of aisle awaits her prince, dark and handsome. Standing tall in his Saville Row tuxedo. He too is smiling broadly, exuding confidence without a sign of nerves. As she reaches the end of her walk, they hold hands. They stare deeply into each other’s eyes and exchange vows. They kiss. The crowd erupts in applause.

Yes, I’m going over the top with the description of our son’s wedding, but it was truly a day to remember.

Pierce and Ghazal, married in the English countryside on Aug. 19, 2018.

Like all weddings that you’re intimately involved in, it went by in a flash. But there were so many magical moments during the service:

  • Our youngest son Finn playing guitar and singing “A Thousand Years” as the service begins.

  • My wife, Grainne, gorgeous in her blue dress and hat, being escorted down the aisle by Pierce and taking her place alongside me on the front row.

  • Our sons, Garrett and Finn, joined by our nephews and cousins, along with Ghazal’s brother, looking handsome as groomsmen.

  • The bridesmaids, composed of Ghazal’s friends and one of our cousins, also dressed in blue, looking beautiful.

  • And the room – known as the Venetian Drawing Room, gilded in gold with a massive fireplace decorated with heraldry. Petals of flowers outline the aisle that Ghazal walks down.

  • The newly married couple leaving the ceremony to the tune of “Love and Marriage” by Frank Sinatra… to get back into the horse drawn carriage (Get it? If not, look up the lyrics) for a ride around the grounds and the local village.

In true English tradition, a full meal is served at the reception. To start: Home cured salmon, fresh herbs, garden leaves, pickled salad. Main course: Roast breast and confit of duck, roast sweet potato puree, sauté greens, honey red wine reduction. To finish: Cheese board, grapes, celery, chutney and oatcakes. And of course, wedding cake.

And come the speeches. As grand as everything was at the ceremony, I’ve never been so moved by wedding speeches.

Ghazal’s father, Daryoush, gets an early laugh by pulling out a scroll and dramatically letting it unroll to reveal his speech. His words are sweet, expressing his love for Ghazal and Pierce and his hope for their future happiness.

In a break with tradition, my wife Grainne also speaks. She brings more than a few tears as she tells the crowd that we are missing Killian, our son who died of leukemia in 2003 as well as her father, mother and sister. But then smiles break out all round as she plays Killian’s favorite song – All Star by Smash Mouth.

Ghazal’s best friend Kelly, who served as the maid of honor, is charming with calculations of how many days, hours and minutes had passed since Pierce and Ghazal met. It is clear that she and Ghazal share a very special friendship.

Pierce is up next and gives a tour de force speech. Speaking without notes, he elegantly outlines his romance with Ghazal. He recounts how he told me – as we walked along a beach in Barcelona, Spain – that he wanted to marry Ghazal. He draws huge laughs in citing the lessons he’s learned from Ghazal – like learning that shopping was not just for things you needed. “We now have a shopping budget,” he says.

He also talks passionately about his Christian faith and how their marriage will be centered around Christ.

He is incredible.

But it is our son Garrett, serving as the best man, who possibly steals the show. The rowdy guests (Gamecocks, University of Kent grads and cousins) all start chanting his name as he takes center stage. From there, Garrett owns the crowd – gently poking fun at Pierce.

“You may have noticed that Pierce is a little opinionated at times,” he said. “Just don’t get him started on atheism, socialism and on whether North Carolina has the best barbecue.”

He ends by saying that one of Pierce’s opinion certainly holds true – that Ghazal was Pierce’s only love.

The speech is funny. It is sweet. It is perfect.

Shortly after the bride and groom cut the cake, and began their first dance to Ed Sheeran's "Perfect." They had taken dance lessons and moved beautifully on the dance floor. Pierce then hands Ghazal off to her father for a dance, and takes Grainne into the floor for a special mother-son dance.

We are all asked to walk outside for a special surprise. As Pierce and Ghazal stand on the lawn of Carlton Towers, spectacular fireworks explode in the summer sky. And amazingly, the British weather cooperates.

We walk back in with the Triple Scotch Ceilidh Band in full swing. These guys are awesome, playing traditional Scottish music and teaching folk dances to the crowd. My niece pulls me onto the crowded dance floor and we learn a few steps together. I am exhausted 10 minutes later and retire to the bar for a cold drink and to catch up with a number of old friends from England and the U.S.

Dancing continues until midnight, culminating with the rowdy crowd (described earlier) singing Hey Jude at the top of their lungs. They are hot, sweaty, and maybe a little worse for wear. But I’ve seldom seen such loyal friends – who came from countries near and far – to be with Pierce and Ghazal.

There are many days I can hardly bear to turn on the TV, read the news or check social media. The voices of pessimism and cynicism are loud. Many people seem to prefer shouting at each other rather than understanding each other.

But on this day – this beautiful day in Yorkshire, England – love rules. Let’s have more days like today.

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