Q: My dad is a convicted felon currently serving probation, and a registered sex offender. He was in prison when I met my boyfriend. I waited until we were fairly serious before telling him about my dad (it’s not exactly great first date material), and he was incredibly sweet and understanding. At the time, I left it up to him if he wanted to share anything, if at all, with his family. As our relationship progressed, we decided we would have to tell them eventually, which really meant when we got engaged. As we approach this next step I am filled with so much anxiety. His family likes me—like really, really likes me. I am not only worried about what they will think, but also that this will prevent me from having a wedding surrounded by the people I love. Because the other complication here is that I love my dad, and he is a big part of my life.
Growing up, my dad was my hero and biggest supporter. He and my mom had a strong marriage and he is equally responsible for raising me to be the strong woman that I am today. He’s the reason I followed my passions in life and the reason I never settled for just any old guy. Since context is important with this kind of thing, I’ll share that he was charged with sexual misconduct with a minor over the age of fourteen and under the age of sixteen. He spent a year in prison, will be on probation for the next few years, and on the sex offender registry for the next several years. By all accounts the relationship between him and his victim was consensual—which doesn’t make it okay, but I just need you to know that he is not a violent predator. The courts, for what it’s worth, have identified him as the lowest-level offender, which means he is not likely to offend again and is not a danger to anyone. My dad has even earned visitation rights with his grandchildren and is allowed more freedoms than some offenders on the registry.
When I found out about what he had done, I was completely devastated, but I chose to love him and to keep him in my life. Choosing to love him was hard at first, but I made that choice because I know that he would have done the same for me if roles were reversed. He would love me, and he would try to help me work through whatever had led me down that path. The past few years have taught me a lot about the meaning of unconditional love. Loving him doesn’t mean that I support his actions. My dad is a flawed human, but not an evil one.
And so to the future wedding, and my future in-laws. I know it will be a big shock, and I want to give them the space to have an honest reaction. I want them to be able to freely decide whether or not they even want to meet my dad. But if they decide to have no part in this, we will likely elope by ourselves. The thought of having a wedding without my dad there to walk me down the aisle is heartbreaking.
Equally heartbreaking is having a big celebration without kids, including my boyfriend’s nephew, whom we are very close with. Additionally, we both love kids. Having a no-kids wedding is just not us. My family is supportive of my dad and would allow him to be around children, so really, the kids ban would just extend to his side of the family if my in-laws do not want to share this secret with the rest of their side of the family. I am also thinking about our future long term. Both of our families live near us, and I’d love to host big family celebrations with both sides. When we have children, I want both sets of grandparents to be able to visit and celebrate holidays and birthdays.
I know I can’t force a relationship between them, but how do I get over it if it never happens? Is there a way to tell my future in-laws about my dad without making it seem like it’s a secret we’ve kept from them for years (even though we have)? How can I give them space and time to process this bombshell? How do we let them know that if they don’t want anything to do with my dad, then there will be no wedding (without pressuring them into making decisions that they are not comfortable with)?
A: Dear Anonymous,
I’m so glad you see that you should tell his parents because yes, you should. As soon as you can muster up the courage, get on that, if only because you’re reaching a point where you’re feeling dishonest about it. And you also seem clear that any of your partner’s extended family that might bring kids around him will also need to know.
But. Well, maybe not yet.
It’s not often that I offer avoidance as a solution, but here I will (with some caveats). Have a kids-free wedding. Across the board, no kids, both sides of the family (a one-sided no-kids wedding will just make people offended or irritated). Tell his parents, sure. But don’t tell the rest of the family just yet.
I know, I know, you really want piles and piles of kids at your wedding. I can relate! But you also want your dad at your wedding, and unfortunately, he’s made it so you can’t have both. In theory, you could tell your partner’s parents and then find a way to relay this information to the entire rest of the family. But you’re finding it hard enough to tell these two folks. How much harder will it be to take that leap to tell them, and then also let everyone else know, too? And then it’s quite likely that some of these folks won’t bring their kids to the wedding once they know, which puts you in a similar position to having the kids-free wedding, only with a lot more emotional stress.
It sounds like you’re still not used to the idea of telling people yet. Maybe the best way to start is just by telling your partner’s parents, experiencing that process, and leaving it at that for now. And then you can, hopefully, see that other people will not condemn you. Hopefully you’ll grapple with the hard bits, but also see it’s not as bad as you fear. And then later on, when your dad might be around someone’s kids, you can tell people quietly, individually, rather than asking the family to pass the word en masse through the grapevine.
I know. I know that means sacrificing a big part of the vision you have for your wedding. I get that you’re being forced to face this ugly truth about someone you really love, and you just want one nice, peaceful, glowing day of respite from facing it. But your dad’s actions make that impossible, and it sucks that you have to experience the ripple effects. Because sadly, you likely can’t have both. Either your dad comes and kids don’t, or you have all the kids you want running around spilling punch all over the ballroom, and your dad isn’t there.
So, how to tell your partner’s parents? Well, I think anyone would be able to understand why you haven’t brought it up before. I can’t imagine his parents being shocked and horrified that you hadn’t paraded this out sooner. You asked how to give them space to process, and that’s wonderfully thoughtful, but they just seriously need to dump out. This problem more directly affects you, not them. Even though it’s pretty clear, explicitly let them know that this is hard for you to talk about so they don’t bring it up casually. Take care of your own emotional needs and they’ll be fine taking care of theirs.
They might not cozy up to him, honestly. But really, that’s nothing unusual—most parents of a couple don’t get together for bridge every Sunday. Still, I wouldn’t even bring up the possibility of elopement. Drop the bomb, let them know that he’ll be at the wedding if that’s what you guys decide to do, but don’t offer them the out of not coming. It probably won’t even cross their minds. And if it does, cross that bridge then.
And hey. What your dad did isn’t a reflection on you. I’m so, so sorry that you’re nervous that you’ll be paying for his choices (and that in many ways, you already are). But anyone who would think less of you because of this situation is just wrong. Even your partner’s parents, if it comes to that. I’m hopeful that it won’t. They already know what kind of person you are, they have an amazing relationship with you, and they managed to raise a son who handled this news well. I’m hopeful they can do the same.
Those are the answers you came here for, to varying degrees. But there are two main things I want you to take away from this post. I can feel you trying to protect your dad from people’s opinions, trying to protect his reputation from their judgment. I feel you rationalizing what he did, that it’s not really all that bad. But your dad can have done an awful thing, and still be loved. What I mean is, you’re still allowed to love him, without trying to make what he did less terrible than what it is. He raised you. You love him. That’s okay.
The other thing is, he’s not the one who needs to be protected here. There’s a reason this is illegal. What he did was very wrong.
Those truths can exist simultaneously. Your dad did something awful, full stop, no rationalizing, no excuses. But you’re also still allowed to love him. It’s maybe counterintuitive, but if you really look that in the face, really acknowledge that what he did was awful, then maybe you won’t be so afraid of anyone else’s reaction. Maybe it won’t be as hard to hear someone else say, “That is absolutely terrible,” if you’ve already acknowledged it yourself.
And of course, of course, if you’re not already in therapy and working on this, please find an awesome professional to help you. Having someone to listen, help you heal, and just navigate this difficult situation will do more good than some lady on the Internet ever could.
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