Father of the bride.

Four words. A simple phrase, but not so clear in the word picture it paints.

Is the father of the bride more than the parent of a young woman about to be married? Is he an object of congratulations, an iconic symbol of a culture that values raising a daughter and walking her down the aisle?

Or is he the poor harried schmo paying all the bills - the flowers cost how much? - but making few of the decisions?

I should be able to answer that question.

I am the icon and the schmo. I am the father of the bride.

On Saturday, my only daughter is getting married. I've never been the father of anyone getting married (what are you waiting for, son?). So I've been thinking about my muddled role, and what it all means. I've also been talking to veteran fathers of brides to see if their experience could make me smarter.

I have to be honest with you. Being father of the bride has not been one of my dreams. When Minna was born, my one hope was that she was healthy, with all her fingers and toes. When she was a toddler, I wanted her to like school, have friends, and not have a stuffed nose every day. I wanted to walk down the street holding her hand. I had more hopes and wishes as she grew, but walking her down the aisle never occurred to me. It might be a guy thing, because I haven't found a man yet who actually thought about that when his daughter was little.

Don't misunderstand me. The fact that she's getting married is great. She wants to marry Ben. He's a wonderful guy who is crazy about her. She's nuts about him. He's from a great family. We like them, they like us, everybody likes everybody. There are no problems. I'm just not sure where I fit in.

One of those veteran fathers of the bride told me that he was surprised at how important he was at his daughter's wedding. In fact, he now believes that after the bride, no one attracts more attention than the bride's father. He said that grooms generally are low on the icon scale and mothers of the bride just didn't have the cultural clout that dads do.

When I questioned him about that, he reminded me that there had been two popular movies decades apart titled Father of the Bride. Ever hear of a film called Mother of the Bride? he asked.

So there, I'm important. The culture says so.

But I'm still not sure why I'm important, or what it is I'm supposed to do. I'm not really giving away Minna - daughters are not property, anymore. I'm just accompanying her - with her mother, of course - down the aisle.

As for paying for the wedding, well that's true. But Libby, the mother of the bride, is writing more checks than I am, and Ben's parents are chipping in, too.

Where does that leave me? I don't feel like an icon, and I don't think I'm a schmo. Maybe I'm overthinking this whole father of the bride thing.

This marriage feels right. I daydream about Minna and Ben taking their vows and smiling and looking dreamily at each other, and I get a little teary. That's just me. I cry at commercials. They're going to be OK.

So let's forget where I fit in. I feel happy. I am just another dad with a big smile because my kid was smart enough to figure out how to be happy.