When parents think about their daughter’s wedding, they naturally hope their child – who, by that time, is not really a child – will meet and fall in love with a wonderful person, someone who will lovingly care for her and who will live up to all those promises made at the altar about sickness and health, richer or poorer, and so on. And you hope the person your daughter falls in love with comes from a loving and supportive family which will treat your child the same as they would treat their own child.
A marriage is the joining of the bride and groom, and the joining of their families.
My wife Toni and I really won the lottery with our little girl – who’s now a fully grown, educated, independent, smart, and beautiful young woman – because she met, fell in love with, and married a talented, smart, independent, handsome, well-mannered man from a wonderful family.
I have been in Mallory’s life since she was a little girl. She was born in 1984 and I first met her when she was 3 years old. I met her mom, Toni, who is now my wife of nearly 18 years, at work when I moved to Madison from Los Angeles in 1988.
Here’s a photo of Mallory at age six, in the pool at the home my former wife and I owned at the time. I still sometimes think of Mal this way; as the little girl who loved to be in the pool. On the morning of her wedding, as we had breakfast, we reminisced about “my little tadpole” who loved to have me pick her up and toss her into the pool; she’d swim back to the ladder, climb out of the water, and say “again!” to me, time after time, until I was too tired to pick her up and toss her in again.
How I went from “mom’s friend Tim” to Mallory’s stepfather is one of those long, modern stories about marriages and divorces. No need to go into detail. It all worked out and nobody hates anybody.
My parenting skills have frequently been called into question, particularly in cases like the event pictured above – which was a housewarming party for Mal, who was then beginning her Junior year at the University of Wisconsin. Even though she was born in Burlington, Iowa, Mal quickly learned the survival skills necessary to navigate the alcohol-sodden traditions of the UW student body.
Three years ago, in 2011, when they were dating, Mal brought John Bonarrigo home for Thanksgiving.
Here’s the gang standing in our front hallway on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, headed out to a Badgers football game. Our son Dru and his girlfriend (now wife) Ashly are on the left; Mal and John are in the middle; and Mal’s BFF and Maid of Honor, Breanna Lalor and her then-current boyfriend Adam are on the right. The whole lot of them piled into my SUV and I dropped them off at Camp Randall Stadium, where they saw the Badgers demolish Penn State and advance to the Big Ten Championship. Oh, and that Wisconsin hoodie that John is wearing? A gift from Toni. John is a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.
But the real take-away from that four-day visit to our home was that I got to meet John, and to know a bit about him. Three years before he would marry our daughter, Toni and I knew that John was a perfect fit for Mal. During his stay as a guest in our home, back in November of 2011, John impressed me so favorably that when we took them to the airport for their flight back home, I pulled Mal aside and said “whatever you do, don’t lose this guy – you two are perfect together”.
Time flew by, 2014 arrived, and the phone call from Mal came early in the afternoon the day before Valentine’s Day. John had proposed, offered Mallory a beautiful diamond ring, and – thank God – she said “yes”! We were overjoyed.
As the time for the wedding drew closer, Mal’s BFF and Maid of Honor Breanna threw a bridal shower at her parents’ home in Madison, and I got to meet John’s sister Lisa for the first time. Above is a photo of Bre, Mal, and Lisa at the shower. When Lisa arrived from New York and Mal brought her to our home to introduce her to me, I was immediately impressed by her manners, her politeness, and knew after spending only a short time with her that John was no outlier – their parents had clearly done a great job of raising wonderful children.
Although Toni had met John’s parents, Dom and Chris, in her trips to New York to visit Mallory, I had not had the honor. Every time she came back from a trip, Toni would enthusiastically tell me stories about the wonderful people in John’s family she’d met. Finally, my chance came. Not that I’d ever doubted Toni, but - and any parent will know this- when your child is a thousand miles away from home (963 to be exact) you want to have personal knowledge about the kind of people who will be so close to and have such influence on your child’s life.
Toni and I flew to New York two days before the wedding, and Dom and Chris were gracious enough to invite us into their beautiful home in New Canaan, Connecticut, for celebratory toasts and dinner, so I could get to know them a bit. Before 15 minutes had gone by, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that we could not have wished for better people as in-laws. I quickly arrived at the same conclusion that Toni had when she’d met Dom and Chris – that we had truly hit the jackpot with these gracious, generous, wonderful people.
After the delicious dinner of tilapia, quinoa, and asparagus, we told more stories, and then Lisa and Michael Bonarrigo arrived and joined us for dessert. It was the first time I’d met John’s brother Michael. What a great and talented person he is! What a pleasure to have finally met both of John’s siblings! And, to give you an idea of the kind of family Dom and Chris raised – as Dom, Chris, Toni, and I sat at the dinner table telling tales, after we’d greeted Lisa and Michael, both of them went immediately, without a word of prompting, into the kitchen and began to clear the counters of plates and silverware, pots and pans, and loaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen. That to me was another sign that the Bonarrigo children were raised properly, and that Dom and Chris were truly great parents. Then Michael and Lisa joined us for gelato and cookies. It was an unforgettable evening!
Here’s a photo of John’s parents – Chris and Domenick Bonarrigo – taken by Toni at the rehearsal dinner the evening before the wedding, after a run-through of the ceremony at St. Aloysius Church in New Canaan. The setting was a beautiful restaurant on the water in Norwalk,Connecticut, just a few miles down the road from New Canaan. There, we were able to meet more of the Bonarrigo’s extended family, and every person we met impressed us with their friendliness, their sincere interest in Mal, and each had a specific compliment about Mal.
One particular family member must be mentioned specifically here, and that would be Grandma Germano – “Grandma G”, Chris’s mother. At 90, Grandma G, seen above entering the church, is sharp as a tack. She insists on calling Toni “Antoinette” – even though Toni’s true, birth-certificate name is Toni – which should give you some insight into Grandma G. What a wonderful resource! A real family treasure, just like Mallory’s Grandma Denison –“Grandma D” – who hand-made beautiful necklaces for Toni and Mal and presented them to Toni and Mal at the rehearsal dinner. Unfortunately, Dom’s mother, Grace, passed away a few weeks before the wedding. I would love to have met her. Mallory spoke so highly of her.
One more note about the rehearsal dinner: Dom made a few remarks before dessert, and told what is, I think, one of the best stories ever. In describing Mal’s impact on the Bonarrigo family, Dom said “one Saturday afternoon a few days ago, we were watching the Badgers play Northwestern, and the Badgers were losing. I said ‘how can we be losing to Northwestern?’ – and then realized – what’s this ‘we’ stuff!!! I didn’t go to Wisconsin!” That’s the kind of effect Mal can have – her enthusiasm for Badger sports is contagious. (I’m not 100% sure, but I think Dom’s law degree is from Boston College/New England School of Law.)
The morning of the wedding, Toni and I met Mal and Bre for breakfast at the Roger Sherman Inn, the historic hotel/restaurant where we stayed while in New Canaan, and the venue for the wedding reception. The talk was light, reminiscing about being tossed into the pool again and again years ago; some of the adventures Mal and Bre had gone on; then the girls left to finish decorating the venue, to get their hair done, and before long it was time to leave for the church.
This was the gorgeous dress the mother of the bride wore. She’s so beautiful!
Here’s the groom walking his mom, Chris, down the aisle, with John’s dad Dom right behind.
Here’s the beautiful and happy bride, being walked down the aisle proudly by her father, Rich Denison, and her stepfather (the author of this blog).
And here’s the “money shot” – John and Mallory saying their “I do’s”.
I don’t want to post a lot of pictures from the ceremony or the reception; in a few weeks, the professional photographer will have provided John and Mal with plenty of excellent images, and when we get those, I’ll post some on this blog.
I do want to post a couple more candids.
Here’s a snapshot of Breanna, the Maid of Honor, giving her tearful and heartfelt salute to her best friend Mallory and Mal’s new husband. That beautiful head of white hair in the foreground belongs to Nellie Denison – Grandma D.
Here’s a shot of the groom and his best man – John and Michael Bonarrigo. After the maid of honor, Breanna, gave a wonderful, heartfelt speech and toast to the newly married couple, Michael gave a speech which had the crowd roaring in laughter. It was full of droll humor and wonderful insights about John – the kind of stories only a brother can tell! Michael’s great toast to the newlyweds was another sign to Toni and me that these Bonarrigo children had been raised in a wonderful, loving home.
Dom and Chris made a few brief remarks (video of Dom here and here, of Chris here), dessert was served, and there was much socializing and dancing to the band. Toni and I were so happy that several of Mal’s friends -friends since middle school - made the trip, and we spent some time at the “Wisconsin table” (video here)thanking them for coming and toasting the newlyweds.
At the reception we met so many more members of the Bonarrigo’s extended family; each and every one of them made it a point to give a personal observation and compliment to Mallory; many had stories of how they knew early on that John and Mallory were made for each other.
Too soon, the grand event was over; good-byes were said, and people headed for their cars. Toni and I made it a point to thank Dom and Chris for their unbelievable generosity and warmth during our entire stay, and for all the things they did – financially and personally – to give our two children a wonderful and memorable wedding.
Mallory and John have been married, and the families have been joined. It is a strong bond, and I am confident it will be a lasting union of children and families. As Deacon Bill said during the wedding, what God has put together, let no person divide.