Q: I have had many questions throughout the wedding planning process, but none have been so record scratching as when my father posed the idea a few weeks back that I may consider not inviting my only brother.
He is an ultra conservative young man, absolutely toxic in his masculinity. And he’s an alcoholic. My dad fears that the non-traditional, very personal ceremony that I’ve crafted with my fiancé will be more or less a “trigger” for his poor decisions and that he will make an enormous scene. This would not be the first time he’s ruined a family affair. Moreover, I never considered the strain that having him attend would put on my dad who feels like if he comes, he will spend the evening babysitting him.
My mother is aghast at the suggestion that I not invite my brother. She desperately wants this to be a positive family interaction for him. She thinks that we should just “keep the police on speed dial” in case he decides to act out (which can be anything from yelling and threatening to physically destructive behavior). This would be the third time they’ve called the cops on him.
My fiancé says whatever I want he will support and that my brother can’t ruin anything as long as we get married (because he’s the best!), but the truth is I don’t know what I want.
My brother and I aren’t close—we don’t talk, and clearly we don’t agree on our world views. But he’s my baby brother. I remember playing with him in our backyard and Christmas mornings spent trash talking during Mario Kart. When he’s sober, he’s intensely intelligent and funny, and I want to be open to him for the (hopeful) day he decides its time to ask for help.
I always assumed I’d invite him and deal with the consequences if he made a scene. I never considered that he might find my very wedding upsetting to the point where it would anger him. I am so completely lost on this one.
Help me APW, you’re my only hope (for an objective opinion).
A: Dear Anonymous,
I’m so sorry. Your Mario Kart memories really hit me hard. It’s tough to pay tribute to the relationship you had with someone, while coming to terms with all of the ways it’s changed.
Every time I read your letter I’m struck by how much I want to side with your dad, here. There’s no question that no matter what you choose, someone is going to be paying for your brother’s trouble. Either you and your mom need to face his absence, a wedding that excludes him, or your dad is stuck feeling the weight of responsibility for him on what should be a happy day. I can sympathize with your worry that you’ll miss him and miss out on an opportunity to include him in a positive way. But I really empathize with your dad’s crushing pressure to keep another adult in check and how it can overshadow a whole day.
It feels a bit like, even with all of your realism (the plans for cops on speed dial, your expectation that he might act out and your resolve to handle it), you and your mom want to include your brother because you’re focusing on who you wish he was. You’re remembering how things used to be, your hopes for a reunion in the future, an optimistic imagined wedding where everyone gets along. Your dad is facing the reality of the situation as it is right now, the sobering fact of three existing calls to the police. It’s easy for me to feel his pain, but I also think he’s being more realistic.
Even still, there isn’t a simple, clear-cut answer. If you do decide to invite your brother, I can’t fault you. But, I’d encourage you to establish as many safeguards as you can, especially on your dad’s behalf. This is a good time for a dry wedding. Enlist some friends to be your brother’s babysitters and (if needed) bouncers. Talk to your dad to see what else you can do to alleviate this pressure he feels to take care of your brother all night.
It’s clear that you’re worried about making your brother angry just by being who you are and celebrating your wedding in the way you’ve chosen. That’s really hard to face. There’s no way to be sure that you’ll avoid making an unpredictable person angry.
Whether you invite him or not, I hope you (and your mom, and your dad) can absolve yourselves from taking responsibility for how he reacts.