Davidson swears there need be nothing awkward between two virgins on their wedding night. "I can't explain to you how beautiful it was when we saw each other for the first time in our hotel room," she says. "It was amazing. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he loved me for who I am. For my heart and my mind. The emotional and mental part was so deep, which made the physical part out of this world."
That's the kind of intimate relationship Jerry Forte wants his daughter, Elise, to enjoy. It's what he feels he has with his wife, Denise. Raised a Catholic, Jerry had a conversion experience when he was 19 years old. He took the strictures of his new Evangelical Christianity seriously. He was 32 and still a virgin when he met Denise, who was also raised Catholic and became a born-again Christian at age 29. Before they met, she had been engaged.
"But," as Denise Forte tells the story the day after the ball, "my dad said, 'I don't really think he's the right one.' And I thought, 'You've got to be kidding.' Everything seemed like it was great. And my dad said, 'I just love you so much. I don't know if I can walk you down the aisle.' I ended up saying, 'Okay, Dad. Because I want you to be proud, I will postpone it for six months.' And then I found out that my fiancé was not faithful. He was not what I thought he was. But my dad knew that. I think God gives the fathers that kind of insight."
Jerry and Denise's daughter, Elise, is grateful for her parents' input. "I think your life is kind of like a flower," she says. "And every time you have a relationship or a boyfriend or something, you're taking a petal of your flower and giving it to that person. So you're giving all these petals away. Pretty soon you're not left with anything to give your husband."
Until Elise marries, Jerry sees his job as protecting that flower. "I want Elise's heartstring to be tied to me. Then on her wedding day, I'll be able to give her to her husband with a whole heart." Jerry adds that, when the time comes, he'll "train this guy in Elise's heart... I'll be working with him and getting to know him and mentoring him and loving him." Jerry says that he wants Elise "to be attracted to that person—but she would want me to be able to bless that."
Asked if she doesn't ever just long for a boy to like her, Elise's Roman lips curl into a dazzling smile. "I want my dad and brother to like me," she says.
Back at the ball, Elise straightens the new ring on her hand. She gets up from her chair and brushes wrapping paper and ribbon from her tulle skirt. "Come on, Dad. Let's dance." Jerry leads Elise to the ballroom, where they join the other couples—born-again, Catholic, Presbyterian, Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, military, even a few fathers who brought their daughters as well as girls whose dads were not in the picture.
The girls are giddy about purity. "I'm 13," Gabrielle Perkins says. "And I want to save myself for my husband. I would want him to do the same thing. I don't want my husband to already have seen a bunch of other girls. I don't know who he is, but right now I pray that he will be able to remain pure, too." Her dad, an air force lieutenant colonel wearing his full dress uniform, looks on and beams.
Twelve-year-old Claire Moore just wants to dance. "Come on, Dad," she says. Now all the fathers lead their daughters to the dance floor as a song plays:
I like the way ya make me feel about you baby / Want the whole wide world to see / Whoa, whoa, you got the best of my love.