We’ve talked pretty extensively on APW about the pain that can come up during wedding planning when you have a parent who is emotionally absent, or when you have a parent who has died. But what we haven’t discussed is how to move forward if you have a parent who you’ve chosen to not have as part of your life. This is an issue that’s near and dear to me personally, and I think it is so important to discuss without shame. As I always say, the real difficulty with a wedding is it puts how we wish things were into conflict with what is. That can be deeply painful, but it can also lead to healing. Here is wishing you more of the latter.
Sometimes, when I read about all you lovely ladies struggling to figure out how to cope with absent mothers, or how to honor your parents who are no longer with you, I start to feel guilty. It’s a guilt that I’ve carried around a long time. My roommate in university whose mother passed when she was young, the friend whose father left her and her mother and never kept in contact but would do anything to have a relationship with him, friends whose parents won’t attend their LGBT weddings: I feel the same around them.
Like I had everything they ever wanted and threw it away. My father is alive. He has not been in my life since I was thirteen-years-old. He certainly won’t be at my wedding. That is, and remains, my decision.
Trust me, when I say it is not an easy one. Long story short: my father is not what I would consider Good People. He has a temper, a dangerous one, and I was on the receiving end of it one time too many. The blow ups might have been far between (thank goodness), but they were progressively getting worse. As a child, there is nothing harder to reconcile than the fact that your father is supposed to love you, and yet the displays of how he feels are very violent and intense and… well, the details don’t really matter, do they? Just that it got to a point where it was no longer physically safe to have him in my life, and I needed to not shake in bed at night or be afraid of saying the Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time.
When friends complain about their parents being too in their faces about wedding planning, or parents who aren’t living up to their financial commitments or who hate the venue or guest list and are doing nothing but judge, I listen and I tell them “I know it’s terrible, but she’s your mom and I know she’s important to you and you want her there.” There are a few, who look at me and say “Well, your dad is your dad, right? It’s the same thing.”
Here’s the thing, though. Sometimes, it’s not the same. A father who takes out his anger on his children is not a father in the same way. And yes, there’s a big part of me who wishes I had a father in my life. That’s a relationship that I wanted more than anything—but that’s not the relationship I had with my father. The relationship that I had with the man who was my father at birth is not a healthy parental one. It’s not a safe one.
My wedding will occur almost twelve and a half years exactly since I stopped talking to my father. He will not be getting an invitation to my wedding, and that may be the single most conflicted decision I have ever made. There is a part of me who like any Daddy’s Girl wants nothing more than a father to give me away at my wedding. Who wants to see his eyes well up with tears at how beautiful and grown up I am.
There’s part of me that screams that I can have that and all I have to do is pick up the phone or send out an invitation. There’s a part of me that wants to do that. My father is not dead, he has not closed the doors on me—if I asked him, I have very little doubt that he would come.
Sometimes, the hardest thing about planning a wedding is re-examining the hard choices that I’ve made in my life and realizing that, painful though they are, they are the right ones. I don’t want to spend my wedding day shaking in my boots with fear—and if I invited the man who is my father to my wedding, that’s what would happen. My wedding is a new beginning, a chance for a lot of things. There’s a part of me that would love to use it to extend an olive branch to my father, to start again, rebuild that relationship. Some relationships, though, are too broken to repair. As easy as it is to say it’s my choice and he’s my father and he should be there, as much as I’d like to be able to say those things, I won’t.
I may have been the person to cut the ties, but I was not the person who broke the relationship. While sometimes the decision hurts—and thinking about my wedding it hurts more than it ever has before—I know in my heart of hearts that the decision is the right one.
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