How Do You Plan a Wedding Without Your Dad?

A guide from someone who's been there

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It was just before midnight and the champagne was already flowing when my now-husband popped the question on New Year’s Eve. It was amazing, exciting, and completely natural all at once. I couldn’t think of anyone I wanted to spend my life with more. The answer was an unqualified yes.

So why, the next day as I was still glowing from excitement (and admittedly a bit hungover), was I also feeling a little down? Why was I thinking an under-the-radar drive to Vegas wasn’t such a bad idea? Maybe I wanted to skip the whole big event and just be married.

The reason was simmering just beneath the surface: I was sad because my dad wouldn’t be there. He couldn’t be there. My dad had died five years before. Before I had even met my now-husband.

The reality set in. He would never get to meet my husband. I couldn’t even call dad with my exciting news.


If you are a member of the unfortunate club I belong to—aka the “Dead Dads Club”—I am so sorry to have you as a member, but glad that we found each other. Also, if you are engaged, congratulations! You’re getting married. Yay! This is an awesome time and deserves celebration. You are beginning a new life with someone you love, and that’s not something that should be minimized even if you are a member of “The Club.”

But there’s no sugarcoating it. It sucks. I forged ahead and planned a wedding knowing that my dad wouldn’t physically be there. But a lot of really difficult things came up in the months and days leading up to the wedding day. And I wanted to share what I learned in the process, so that if you’re going through this, you know it’s not just you. You are not alone.


I like to think that I’m not too concerned with etiquette, but I did find myself doing a lot of Internet research trying to figure out the “right” way to do certain wedding related things. There is a lot out there. One article contradicts the next. The one big conclusion I came to, and what I can’t stress enough, is be true to you and your partner. If it doesn’t feel right to you, then it isn’t. If someone is pressuring you to do a prayer reading for your dad at the wedding, and that’s not something you would ordinarily do, it’s okay to say no.

You’re dealing with the hugely stressful life event of a wedding. There are big expectations and bigger emotions: Is this the perfect dress? Who do we cut from the guest list? How are we going to afford this? Not to mention, wow, I’m going to be with my partner for the rest of my life.

Add to all of that stress the absence of your dad. Traditionally, in Western weddings the father of the bride plays a major role. He gets a father-daughter dance, gives a toast, and generally plays host. For me, there was not only a hole in my heart, but a hole in the ceremony for all of those traditional things. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to make things run smoothly without drawing attention to the absence, which can leave you emotionally vulnerable.


If you are planning a wedding together, I’m assuming you love your partner very much. I’m assuming you know each other pretty well by now. Favorite food. Favorite movie. How long it takes you to get ready to go out. Maybe what your song will be for your first dance. But don’t assume that your partner is aware of how important having your dad at your wedding is to you. Tell them that it makes you sad that your dad won’t be there. That sometimes you feel angry and cheated that he didn’t live long enough to be there. That you were jealous of the bride at the wedding you went to together last year, not because she was getting married first, but because seeing her and her dad having a father-daughter dance sent you to the bathroom in tears. Make sure your partner knows, then share a story about your dad.

My husband knew how much I loved my dad, but I still don’t think he realized how important it was for me to have my dad at my wedding. That I was one of those girls who had always dreamed of her wedding. Long after our wedding, I heard my husband talking to his seven-year-old daughter about how one day he would walk her down the aisle, and I couldn’t help but feel sad that I had missed out on that experience.


Picking out invitation wording can be tricky. If you’ve been invited to traditional weddings, you know that often the parents are listed on the invitation because they are also the ones hosting the event. So what happens when your dad is dead? He can’t technically host an event, right? Some online invitation stores will tell you to indicate that your living parent and “the late” Mr. So-and-So are hosting. I personally thought that wording was just too sad for what was supposed to be a joyful occasion. Not to mention inaccurate, because again, someone who is dead can’t host a party.

If you’re hosting the event yourself, then you could sidestep the issue altogether and leave parents’ names off of the invite. Problem solved.

In my case, my mom’s new husband offered to host our wedding, so our invitation read “Mr. and Mrs. Mom’s-New-Husband request the honor of your presence at the marriage of her daughter,” which worked for us. My dad’s name was left off the invitation because, at the time, I just couldn’t think of a creative way to include everyone. Somewhere recently I saw that a bride used wording like mine, and then included at the bottom of the invitation, “Blessed from above by Mr. Her-Dad’s-Name.” I thought that was lovely. However, it’s a personal choice, and you have to go with what feels right to you.


There are so many preparations and interactions with strangers, friends, and family that go into planning a wedding, and there are a lot of people that just don’t “get it.” Or maybe they mean well, but they couldn’t possibly understand how an off-handed remark about how “your dad will write the check for this,” or “at least you don’t have to worry about your dad not liking your fiancé,” could cause a breakdown. I remember the awkward interaction with our photographer on our wedding day when it was “time for the bride to take a photo with her parents” as she directed my mom and her new husband to stand next to me. My heart sank. It sinks again writing this.

I strongly urge you to have a really honest conversation with someone you can count on, someone who is not your partner and who will be with you throughout your planning and on the day of your wedding. If you have a wedding planner who you think can shield you, that’s great. If not, try to make your maid of honor, wedding party member, or a close friend your advocate for heading off all dad-related awkwardness so you don’t have to deal with it. Better still if that friend knew your dad, or was there for you when you were first grieving. Get a bottle of wine, sit down, and tell them that you need their help. Ask that person to have a private chat (way ahead of time and again on your wedding day as a reminder) with the officiant, DJ, photographer, etc., about your preferences for how to deal with your dad’s absence. As much as possible you don’t want to have to worry about all of the ways someone who doesn’t know that your dad has passed, or is otherwise sensitivity impaired, can bring you down on your wedding day.

When all is said and done, most likely your wedding won’t be totally perfect. I have yet to hear of any wedding where something didn’t go exactly according to plan. Know that and be okay with it. Even with the best planning, there will be bumps in the road and moments when you think of your dad. Pause, breathe, and remember that he is with you, even if he is not with you. You can still have a beautiful and amazing day celebrating your life and new love.

If your dad was anything like mine, he would absolutely want that for you.

Related: Without Dad: One Year LaterThe Motherless Bride, On Weddings in the Face of Death, and Dealing With an Emotionally Absent Parent.

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