#720: Planning a wedding when your dad is not a good dad.


I have a great stepdad, and a pretty not good dad. My dad has been in my life the entirety of it, so he’s not an absentee dad- but he’s controlling, emotionally abusive, financially manipulative (he’s a millionaire, and uses that to try to exact control over you) and just pretty cruel in general. He is married to a woman who hates me and my siblings, and they have both been honest with us about this since we were kids and they got married. They both think we haven’t tried hard enough to get her to like her or to “earn” our way into being part of their family, which we currently don’t deserve (his words.) I have tried to keep him in my life as much as possible and do what I can to prove to him I’m a good person, and always have.But he’s been pretty consistent in his vocal belief I’m not a good person, and never will be.

Now I’m an adult and I take nothing from him, and pay my own way 100% of the time. I wanted him to see what I wanted was the relationship, not the money. When I got engaged, he offered to help with the wedding, which I should have just said no to. But I was seduced by the idea we could all be a family and do this big day together, and as dumb as it is, I love my dad. Of course, by two weeks after our engagement, things had devolved. My dad, and then his wife had called to insult me and my mother (whom my dad still hates, almost two decades later) and call me names etc. My dad was apparently in the room and let her do it. We haven’t spoken since. That was 3 months ago.

I don’t want his money. I just wanted him to be a good dad. The shitty part is, I LOVE my dad! I wanted him to be a part of it and walk me down the aisle and be my dad. But I don’t think he can be. My stepdad is a good dad and always has been. I want him to walk me down the aisle, but I know this will break my dad’s heart. And frankly, now that my dad can’t show off his money, which he loves to do, and the event won’t be about him, I don’t even know that he’ll come.

My fiancé hates him and doesn’t want to invite him. I don’t want to invite my dad’s wife, but know I will have to if I even want a chance to have my dad there. Which I’m not sure if I want, either, to be honest.

How do I even begin to decide how to handle this? to be fair to my dad, my fiance, and my stepdad all at once? And most of all, to keep our wedding the happy day it’s meant to be, and not the Divorced Family Dysfunction Hour?!


PS- Yes, I do have a therapist. Specializing in family conflict. And a great support network.

Dear K:

Dig if you will, a picture.

  • You, your fiancé, his parents, your mom & stepdad, and assorted siblings, grandparents. Max: 10 people? 20? Only people you both actually want & only people who are nice to you invited?
  • Alternately, plan the entire wedding without communicating with your Dad and Stepmom. Do not take any money for them, consult them on nothing, include them in no part of the official family/wedding party calculus. Ask them to save no dates. If you do decide to invite them, send them an invitation the way you would anyone else and see what they do. Until an invitation comes, they should wonder if there is even still going to be a wedding. Until you get an RSVP, give yourself permission to stop thinking about them.
  • One obvious answer is, “Eloping is a thing people do.” It sounds like you don’t want to do that, and you shouldn’t have to do that if you don’t want to, so instead really think about what traditions really matter to you and which are just there as filler “what you’re supposed to do” stuff. For instance, maybe nobody walks anybody down the aisle. Just skip that entire question and let everyone save face.
  • Any time you fuck with tradition you will get pushback from somebody that whatever it is is a necessary part of a wedding. “What do you MEAN you won’t have your DAD walk you down the aisle are you SOME KIND OF A MONSTER who EATS PUPPIES?” Be ready with “Huh, we’ll think about it” and other noncommittal phrases. Get yourself to Offbeat Bride if you haven’t already. Support abounds.
  • Scripts, should you need them:
    • “We’re eloping.” Better yet: “We eloped!
    • We’ve having a tiny, tiny wedding with just a few people who are very close to us.”
    • “Dad, we’ve got everything handled. Just come and enjoy yourself as a guest.”
    • “Dad, I can’t really listen to this right now. If you hate Mom so much you can’t behave yourself for one day, don’t come.”
    • Reminder: People who call you to scream at you deserve to be hung up on, or for you to put the phone down and wander away.
    • “I’ll miss you, but not so much that I want to put up with xxx.” 
    • “Dad, we tried to include you in scheduling, but I lost patience for the screaming. I hope you can make it, but I have no energy to fight about it.” 
    •  “Dad, I’ve really tried to keep you in my life, but the 80th time you told me I’m not a good person and I never will be I sorta stopped caring about your opinions.” 

I realize I’m constructing a fantasy here and that it’s easy when it’s not my family. I hope you get the wedding that you want to. Most of all, I hope you can release yourself from the notion that you have to somehow fix all of this with a party. You didn’t make this bitter history between your folks, you’re not making your dad act like a selfish baby, you don’t have to keep auditioning for his approval or use this event to prove something to him. There is no fixing the situation because you don’t have control over the person who is being a jerk. You can choose how much and when to engage, to a certain extent, but that’s all you can really do. I’m glad you have a therapist on your team and I hope your wedding rocks.

175 thoughts on “#720: Planning a wedding when your dad is not a good dad.

  1. “I know this will break my dad’s heart.” Will it, though? Or will it embarrass him a little, leading him to try to exact his revenge via emotional abuse and manipulation but leave his heart intact?

    The visible and public consequences of being a bad dad being more heartbreaking than being a bad dad says more about him than anything else, I think.

    Practically speaking though, I one hundred percent support both soon to be spouses walking down the aisle together, because *to me* this looks less like a woman being chatteled about and more like two people taking the first steps of a journey as beloved equals.

    1. That was exactly what I was going to comment on. If he can’t even treat his daughter the way a parent should, even occasionally, how emotionally invested can he be in being the one to give her away (for the right reasons, not for how it will make him look or anything)?

      Believe people when they tell you what they’re like, LW. If he says you’ll never be a good person (for him), then working the wedding around him, involving him in plans, letting him walk you down the aisle – that’s not going to change anything. He has presumably known for quite a while that you might one day get married and has been able to factor that into his “never”. He’s not going to suddenly turn around and say “Wait, I get to walk you down the aisle! Now you are Good Enough (for me) and I will never be cruel to you again!”

      It’s hard, because he’s your dad. He’s supposed to be there for you, he’s supposed to be part of your life. But even if you want to maintain a relationship with him, I think you’ll have fewer regrets if you focus on making the wedding a happy day for you and your fiance than on using it to try to fix things with your dad.

      1. Wow. My wedding had a lot more drama than I wanted because my husband’s parents hate me, threatened to boycott our wedding, told my husband not to marry because I was nothing but a gold-digging Catholic who wouldn’t get a job (as opposed, I suppose, to a gold-digging atheist, which might have been more acceptable), finally came to the wedding because my husband told them I was pregnant (I was) and if they ever wanted to see their grandchild, they would come. (I would not have let them see my child no matter what because they are mean drunks.)

        They came. They got drunk every night. They stayed in our house for nine days. (Do not let people stay in your house that long! Do not let people stay in your house during your wedding.) In the toast, his dad did not mention my name once. They asked me to buy Lactaid but then filled up on our $24/lb Carr Valley cheese that we use as a special snack, not as the 4 p.m. accompaniment to bourbon.

        Deep breath. I am still angry about the whole thing and wish we would have eloped. (I have, however, gotten an entire blog out of their antics.) They have never accepted me. His mom even wrote me a letter saying she had had to work to be accepted by her inlaws and I would have to do the same.

        My point is – and it’s really easy for me to tell someone else to do this and my situation is not completely analogous because they are inlaws, not my parents, so I really do. not. care if they like me, is that they are not going to change. You should not have to “earn” your way into a family. You dad should love you JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE HIS CHILD. And his wife should accept you JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE HIS CHILD. They do not sound like nice people. They are the ones with the problem, not you. Even if you did start to “earn” their approval (what would you have to do? I have never been able to figure out exactly what it is I need to do with my inlaws), they would just move the goalposts.

        It is OK for you to have a wedding without your dad. Nobody who knows you will think any less of you. They will think only that your dad is not doing it right because he is missing his child’s wedding and who does that?

        1. Wait why were they mad at you for being Catholic??? Non-practicing Jewish woman here, so I don’t get if it’s like a weird Christian in-fighting thing?

          1. In short, yes. Catholics and Protestants for one VERY MUCH do not get along in some places (see: generations of violence in Ireland and England). The last few hundred years of Christian history is rife with schisms and in-fighting. Or, if their in-laws are atheists (I wasn’t sure how to read the implications of that one reference), they might just see any religious person as weird, though Catholics might be seen as especially weird. (And it’s not *as* big a deal as it used to be, but Catholicism has also been associated with historically more marginalized white groups, like Italians and Irish, and plenty of more WASP-y background people might still view it with disdain).

          2. Actually, they were mad that I was one of those stupid, stupid people who believe in God.

            Which is odd, because I have plenty of atheist friends who are not bothered by my beliefs (and vice versa, although I hope if they are wrong and I am right that we still get to spend eternity together). Religion and politics are not the most important thing about a person to me.

    2. I wouldn’t be surprised if LW’s dad would put on a big show of being heartbroken and HOW COULD YOU and BUT I’M YOUR FAAATHER and MAYBE THIS COULD HAVE HEALED THE BREACH BETWEEN US. And he can, as always, threaten to totally cut off his relationship with the LW. But I’m not at all convinced that throwing a giant fit and trying to punish the LW is the same as being actually heartbroken.

    3. Even if he IS heartbroken, … there is a social contract where you try to not break the other person’s heart. He has FAILED in this social contract to you. There is no longer a social contract between the two of you where you have to avoid breaking his heart so long as you aren’t doing it on purpose. If you don’t have him walk him down the isle/come at all, it will not be trying to break his heart, it will be trying to have a happy wedding that happens to result in a little heartbreak for him.

      LW, his heartbreak is acceptable as long as you’re not taking actions to try to ensure it happens. Taking actions where his heartbreak is a byproduct but not the main intention is totally fine at this point!

      That is, for me at least, the secret to happiness. “This person’s emotional pain is acceptable if I am not doing something AT them, and they’ve shown a similar level of disinterest in my emotional pain being a byproduct of their actions in the past”. Trying to protect the whole planet from emotional pain will just paralyze you from taking any actions at all. Spend your energy protecting the emotional well being of people who are willing to protect yours (plus the benefit of the doubt for strangers).

    4. LW, my mom is the MIL from this letter (literally, my then-finacee-now-wife wrote that letter): https://captainawkward.com/2012/05/14/247-marrying-into-a-family-with-awful-boundary-issues-or-secrets-of-dealing-with-highly-difficult-people/

      My mom tried to get in on the wedding planning. I gently told her we had it under control. She pushed. I pushed back. The year before my wedding was the worst year of our relationship in my entire life. She in fact claimed that she was heartbroken that I wasn’t letting her help plan the wedding. She claimed that she was at a friend’s house and saw pictures of her friend’s kid’s wedding and it made her sick with heartbreak.

      But we didn’t give in. And then when the day came she cried just like everyone else and then she danced and laughed and afterwards she bought hundreds of dollars of pictures from our photographer.

      So what I’m trying to say is that sometimes people will claim to be heartbroken as a manipulation tactic and what they really mean is “I am mad that I cannot stop you from doing things your own way,” and when push comes to shove staying “heartbroken” takes a lot of energy whereas showing up and having a good time is much easier.

      1. Absolutely this. I have found when the option is “we do it my way and you behave nicely, or we don’t do it at all” tricksy relatives manage to behave. But they have to realise you mean it. On one occasion they were trying to move the goalposts, and change plans to something that suited them, right up to the second I said “no, I *am* eating here, join me or don’t”.

        By the way, in case that sounds mean or not accommodating, the “suited them” refers to trying to get me on non-neutral territory – obviously I’d picked a restaurant which met everyone’s food & access needs. And we were paying.

        I could explain the whole shebang, but this is a public post… Suffice to say I’ve found over and again that once boundaries are *very* clear – it happens this way or not at all – tricksy people step into line a bit.

        1. Heh. My MIL hates good food and even more so hates allowing anyone else to make any choices about family outings, ever.

          So this Christmas when *all four of the kids and partners* collaboratively decided one the *one* place we would all have *one* meal out together during a trip where she got to make every other choice? She waits until we’re all sitting, the waiter comes for drink orders, and she says “no appetizers or drinks for me, I can’t wait to get out of this awful place.”

          My SIL and I both took great joy in ordering apps and cocktails.

          1. “I’ll have the shrimp cocktail and a margarita to start, and my mother-in-law would like a taxi back to the hotel, please.”

  2. LW, I understand that you’re emotionally invested in the idea that your dad is a good person who deserves a place at your wedding because he is capable of participating in a celebration of you and your love and your future family. But, that said, he has given you ABUNDANT EVIDENCE to the contrary. It seems pretty obvious from what you’ve written here that the wedding and you, don’t be good enough for so much as a “such a lovely ceremony” comment from that corner. Your fiance, understandably, does not want someone at the wedding who treats you like crap. There is literally no reason to involve your dad on this besides omg tradition!!!!

    Let your step dad walk you down the aisle. You’ve said he’s great! He’ll do a great job, and will be able to function as a supportive and loving wedding guest! As a matter of fact make “supportive and loving” criteria for being at the wedding at all.

    1. Agreed. You love your dad and it’s ultimately your decision. But you’re asking for advice, and my advice would be to not invite him, period.

      When he says that you’re not a good person, what he’s really saying is that you’re not good enough for him.

      But what he’s really *really* saying is that he’s not good enough for you.

    2. I’m six days late, but… this. A million this.

      Weddings are for joy. If he is not going to increase the joy, then he does not belong regardless of what DNA you might share.

      (My dad is similar… he’s really in to his kids as far as they improve his self-image, but doing anything less than his idea of perfect is Not Done, accompanied by shouting and then passive-aggressive pouting. I walked down the aisle with my then-fiance, with a tiny picture of my late stepdad in my bouquet.)

    3. I’m 10 days late, but also boosting. LW, it sounds like your options are either having a lovely wedding ceremony with people who care about you, or having your dad there. I understand wholeheartedly that he’s your father and you care deeply about him, but I also see that he’s told you quite clearly that you don’t live up to his perceived standards. I don’t think he’d hold off on breaking social etiquette on even a day like your wedding.

      You could potentially think about doing something similar to what my parents did when they got married – they knew that if they tried to have a traditional wedding my very particular grandmother (dad’s mum) who has never really liked mum would throw all sorts of passive aggressive, snide comments around for the entire process, so they decided to throw tradition out the window, took my sister and I to Vegas and got married by an Elvis impersonator, making sure they had all the lovely memories to hold onto for when we got back home and announced to both sides of the family that they’d gotten married.

      You don’t necessarily have to exclude your father from knowing about the wedding and the details thereof, but I personally would recommend that based on past behaviour, let him hear about it after the event, so he isn’t able to tarnish your memories of what should quite rightfully be an extremely happy day.

      All the best to you, whatever you decide though 🙂 Do whatever will make you and your fiancee happiest, is my ultimate recommendation.

  3. Long time reader, never commented (you know the drill):

    Voice of experience: I love my dad. All in all, he was a good dad (certainly better than yours). But I got married after my parents’ bitter divorce, and I entertained fantasies — not that I could “fix” things, but for one day, one very important day for me, my father could put “being my dad” above “proving he was right about everything.”

    So I invited him and his new wife to the wedding (also spouse’s mother and father and father’s second wife). Fathers were each given a boutonniere to match my bouquet. I did NOT have him walk me down the aisle — I walked by myself. When I passed the mothers’ — mine and spouse’s — I handed them each a rose from my bouquet. (This was to symbolize the “gift” of the parents of their child to the new family.) Wedding was lovely, every one behaved beautifully.

    Then came the reception. I had preemptively stated NO LIQUOR at the reception. My father brought some in anyway, shared with other father. Spouse’s father was relatively polite — he just looked for excuses to be offended for being “overlooked”, and left early in a huff. MY father decided to stalk my mother, corner her against a wall, and yell at her until some other guests physically dragged him away. We didn’t speak for almost five years.

    Tl;dr. Weddings somehow tend to heighten all sorts of emotions that are running around. Usually they are happy, festive emotions, which the ritual and celebration intensify. But if there are nasty, negative, selfish emotions there, they won’t be “suppressed for the sake of the happy couple.” They will fester, and amplify, and demand expression.

    1. I just wanted to say that your idea with the roses is really beautiful and romantic. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get married, but if I do, I love the idea of acknowledging that you’re building families that way.

      1. There is also the tradition of posing out bouquets instead of throwing them. So, the bride gives here’s to her mother, and the bridesmaids give theirs to other female family members like grandmothers and your new mother in law. And that can be as casual or as ceremonial as you like!

        1. I didn’t have bridesmaids, so only the one bouquet (actually, I didn’t plan on having any, but my aunt picked and arranged one from my grandparents’ garden, with flowers I liked, as a surprise. So I was ok with that and carried it in spite of the ‘oh, but you have to have a bouquet!’ness.) I gave it to one of my young cousins right after the photos, she was about 10 years old and had had surgery a week before he wedding. That was my way of avoiding being forced into the bouquet toss.

          1. My mother grew flowers to make me a bouquet, and got up early the day of my wedding to make it. Then we all forgot about it entirely until after the reception- which is when I first saw it. It totally failed to cross any of our minds, in the excitement of things.

          2. I got out of the bouquet toss by carrying three long-stemmed orchids in the color of my dress (which was not white, because I look fat in white, and I find wearing white for weddings a little gross since it symbolizes the property nature of virginity, although I understand it’s a cultural trope and everyone wears white). My orchids were too beautiful to throw, and it was a tiny wedding so there wouldn’t have been a point other than to see the little kids fight over flowers.

        2. My SIL threw her bouquet, but it was designed to unroll from its ribbon tie as it flew so the flowers all came apart and landed on the guests in a shower. It was really beautiful.

  4. Oh, jeez, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. My sister and I both had our alcoholic dad “disappear” without warning a few weeks before our weddings and not attend. It was extremely sad, but we both survived. Here’s what helped me:

    -Your wedding is wonderful and special to you, but it will not magically solve your dad’s deeply rooted issues. He’s gonna treat it like any other day. Let go of this day being the event that solves your dad.

    -Grieve and be very nice to yourself. There will be weeks when you’ll be fine and days when you’ll need lots of self-love. It’s okay to have a sad day. It’s also okay that you forget about your dad completely.

    -The people who support you do not mind being pulled in at the last minute to take over “dad” jobs and be there for you. They will be honored, loving, and ready to go like the emotional Jedi knights that they are.

    -Have your stepdad walk you if it’s important to you to have this tradition. My uncle walked me and it was just wonderful. He was so proud of me and us and he was so happy.

    All the hugs. This is primal shit, but I know your wedding will be gorgeous and loving. Mine was and I have no regrets.

    1. Awesome…ALL OF THIS ^^^ I’ve been married, and I don’t know what it is about Wedding Magical Thinking that paints pictures of harmony where there is discord, responsibility where there is selfish assholery, and emotional reckonings–but that isn’t real. I thought that my wedding day would make my parents act like they weren’t going through a terrible divorce, my dad’s side of the family be polite and courteous, my sister’s drug addiction and wack-ass early twenties behavior go away. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. And in a more meta sense, my marriage didn’t correct all that or erase my parent’s divorce either. Events and transitions–weddings, engagements, children, promotions, moves, coming out–are all occasions that can be happy and should be about the people experiencing and navigating those moments. But in some ways, those moments also “belong” to the community, and the friction that comes from changes doesn’t FIX anyone or anything, it HEIGHTENS. The absolute pinnacle of kind acts you can make now is to a) grieve the walk down the aisle with your dad and b) arm yourself to have an amazing wedding day, but most importantly, an amazing MARRIAGE, with all the strong boundaries that make a relationship work when we are growing away from the abusive narcissists in our lives!

  5. I think one thing that you may want to remember is that even if you had a great dad and your whole family are generally reasonable people, wedding planning is one area where reason can fly out the window no matter what you do. If you had two great parents and two great stepparents, they might STILL have very different, very conflicting fantasies about How This Wedding Should Be. Which they’ve fantasized about, maybe, since your birth (ok, I have this type of mother, at least). It may help you and your fiance to expect some kind of difficulty from your dad or someone else, no matter what you decide. Offbeat Bride, like CA said, is great at helping with these kinds of situations.

    If you’re worrying about being fair, you might consider walking yourself down the aisle, or walking down with your fiance- you are starting a new life together. Or asking your mother to walk you down the aisle – mothers who are good parents can get overlooked as the consistent parent in a bride’s life. There’s no reason it HAS to be your father. Even Miss Manners mentioned in an etiquette column that in mainstream US culture, the only reason the father walking the bride down the aisle even became a tradition was that he was the parent more likely to be alive due to childbirth dangers. “Being alive” does not equal your being comfortable with him walking you down the aisle, or even being at your wedding.

    My sister was once in your position, and without any qualms whatsoever asked my dad, her stepfather, to walk her down the aisle and to be in the wedding pictures. Her dad and stepmother came to the wedding, and she treated them cordially and politely, as though they were distant coworkers and nothing else. But, her dad is not the sort of person who likes to show off or make events about him, so ymmv. But don’t feel bad if that’s your choice – do what feels right for you.

    1. Seconding this about weddings being WEIRD all on their own. I am getting married in… six weeks? (!) I am lucky enough to have awesome parents and awesome soon-to-be-in-laws, and I was all like I am LOGICAL and full of COMMON SENSE and thus everything about this whole process will be LOGIC and very easy! …. and it’s still been weird, and weirdly stressful, and people care about things it would never have occurred to me to care about. Like hats. Do we want them to wear hats? We don’t care about the hats. Wear a hat if you like! Don’t wear one if you don’t like! But people REALLY want us to have an opinion on hats! They need to KNOW. Is this a hat wedding, or not?

      (I’m considering mandating fascinators for everyone, including the men.)

      All of which is to say… weddings are weird even with the best of intentions. Give yourself permission a) not to try and create some sort of perfect zen balanced wedding where everything is exactly balanced to be fair and delightful to everyone and b) do the specific things that are important to you (and maybe not care about hats).

      1. Congratulations on the upcoming union!

        Some people can really rock the hell out of a hat. Other people (raises hand) look like they aren’t sure why this thing just landed on their head and they really wish it would go away. I am totally on Team Hats Are Awesome And Optional.

      2. When my guests asked me about the dress code, I said “Wear whatever you want, as long as it won’t get you arrested and you don’t outshine the bride.”

        1. To be fair, if that’s all your told, it can be super uncomfortable as a guest not to know whether it’s formal or informal. You have to figure out whether it’s worse to be under- or over-dressed, and either way it’s awkward. It’s really a kindness to your guests to say “this is a casual affair, but you can wear whatever you want” or whatever.

          1. yeah, my sister keeps saying “wear whatever you want” but that totally isn’t true. She thinks she’s being low-key, but she’s actually just making it way more stressful. Because look, if I showed up in PJs or jeans, that would be inappropriate, so there is a line. But I have no CLUE what the formality level is. and the only thing more awkward than being the most overdressed person at a party is being the most underdressed. So just tell me. Is it white tie? Black tie? Cocktail attire? Sundresses? Just give me a guideline to go off of!

          2. “This is what the mother of the bride is wearing. Nothing more formal, no more than four shades less formal.” (My daughter is having a heavily-geeky masquerade-themed wedding. I’m wearing full Jedi regalia.)

        2. I told people “wear something fancy but appropriate for outdoors in springtime, practical shoes and comfortable clothing are probably a good choice.”

      3. …hats? For real? This is a thing people worry about at weddings? *bafflement* I admit that part of my own personal aversion to getting married is that thinking about planning a wedding makes me want to hide under the bed, but yikes.
        Congratulations on your upcoming marriage, though, and the fascinators sound fun. 🙂

        1. I sort of get the hat question if it’s an outdoor ceremony and reception. Having had skin cancer, I always wear a hat in the sun. If it’s a big occasion, I wear a great hat. It never occurred to me, though, that my hat might be a big deal for a bride. Either I move in more relaxed circles, or LW’s guests are more considerate than I am.

          1. If you have a church wedding, at some churches, hats are compulsory, and at some, they are forbidden. No, really. It’s the Deuero-Pauline letters versus (direct quote) “There will be nothing between myself and God.” Um, except the roof of the church?)

        2. It doesn’t have to be like that, LaughingGiraffe. It can be super low key and surrounded with friends and fun & you can be just as happy on the day of as you are 10,20,30+ years later. It’s the marriage that counts, not the wedding.

      4. Oh, gosh, yes, weddings – and wedding planning – can be very strange. Our wedding was very low-key, and both me and my mother were on the same page about pretty much everything, and yet… people expected us to have opinions about things like napkins! Or folding chairs! Or boutonnieres! After about the 10th “okay, you have to make a choice about this random thing you never cared about before but is now apparently Very Important” you tend to get a bit punchy, even if everyone’s low-key and on the same page.

      5. God, yes. In my wedding, both sets of parents are still married, and everybody is sane and generally lovely (my mum has her issues, but she means well), and I was described by more than one vendor as “the most relaxed bride I’ve ever met”, and there was STILL weirdness and stress and arguments about (to me) the most bizarre miniutae. My mother and I had a stand-up fight about the receiving line. My parents started screaming at each other over the guest list during a discussion about who pays for what, which resulted in me bursting into tears and running away from the table.

        It was a lovely day and I remember it with huge fondness, but the planning is bullsh*t. (Don’t even get me started on how wedding dress shops automatically assume that you’re dieting.)

      6. OMG, I thought I was the only one who had to field random questions about hats! It wasn’t for my wedding, but for my bridal shower.

        I was like “uh…I’m not wearing a hat, but if you want to, go ahead?” But people were like “YOUR GRANDMOTHER NEEDS TO KNOW IF SHE NEEDS TO BUY A HAT.” My grandmother was all “IS IT OKAY IF I DON’T WEAR A HAT?” And I was just like…”who the fuck came up with this hat question out of nowhere? When the HELL HAVE ANY OF US EVER WORN HATS?” (turned out it was the fault of one of my aunts, who likes to insert herself into things by making up problems when she’s not getting enough attention)

  6. Your wedding is about you, the commitments you value, and the shape of the life ahead of you. And also cake, family, pretty clothes, and spending far too long on your feet. But you get what I mean – a wedding has core values that differ from person to person. I think it’s a great idea to focus on the values you want to see in your life – being valued, being supported, being loved and acknowledging those you love. Since you want your stepfather to walk you down the aisle, go with that. It clearly has a meaning and value to you. Your dad walking you down the aisle seems more about projecting the relationship you WANT rather than a relationship that you have. And I’m not convinced your dad will give you the relationship you want.

    LW, important question for you: do you ACTUALLY love your dad? Because it sounds like he is a terrible person, and that you don’t actually like him very much. It sounds like he has hurt you and your family a lot, and loving him is a nice explanation for why his actions have hurt and still hurt you. It doesn’t have to be the only explanation. It sounds like you have a strong image in your head of the dad that you could have: someone who supports you, who thinks you are good, who recognises your strengths, who celebrates you and the things that are about you. But that daydreamDad is not overlapping at all with what you’ve shared of actualDad. You have put a lot of work into trying to get access to the VIP area of your dad’s life where he allows daydreamDad to shine through (I suspect this area does not exist) and you are forgetting that relationshops are a team effort. He is currently being terrible and telling you to be less awful and there is the vague promise that if you do these things, you get VIP access to a dad who is Not Shit. But you also get to set boundaries and make demands. You also get to say “Until you stop being mean and hurting my loved ones, you don’t get access to me, let alone VIP access to Loving Daughter me”.

    1. I was going to say something similar. One day I realised that I loved my Dad as I had known him when I was 4 and he was the center of my world and just so awesome because that’s how young children see their parents. But the man he was, the man called FirstName LastName — this was a person I did not like at all and would not choose to be friends with. Who was a drunk and enjoyed taunting people. Who tickled until it hurt and didn’t believe you when you said it hurt. Who was a racist and treated all women quite shabbily. Who thought he was the smartest person in the room when he was sober and convinced of it when he was drunk (which was a substantial part of the time). Who disregarded my feelings and exposed me to people who hated me (I also had a stepmonster) and never stood up for me. Who did not participate in my life, by choice, because it was easier.

      Your bio-Dad, LW, does not sound like someone you would choose to be friends with. If he was your boss, you would be searching for another job. If he was dating your best friend, you would want her to dump him.

      I like the suggestion above about planning your wedding how you want it without consulting him on anything or accepting any of his money. If he does send a cheque, send it back. He is not interested in this in any way except how it will make him look. He knows that if on the day of his daughter’s wedding he is not there, it will reflect badly on him as a parent and father and he’s spent a lot of his life using his money to buy the good opinion of others. The money is just a way to make you jump through more flaming hoops to win his approval and if you don’t behave exactly as he wants, he’ll just pull the money to punish you. So don’t take the bait. Don’t even invite him, you wouldn’t if he was a boss you couldn’t stand.

      You may love your father, the man who gave you life and half your genes. But the man who he is, that is not someone you like or respect because of how he’s treated you and others. Respect is not bought or bestowed, it’s earned and he hasn’t earned yours. That is sad and seriously sucky because we all want our parents to love us unconditionally, to know that no matter what, there are two people in the world to whom we can turn to for support and encouragement. Sounds like you got those people, in your Mom and your Stepdad. It may not be the way you wanted, or the way “society” and all the people who scream Faaaaamily! would agree to or approve of, but the last thing you need is a giant man baby pitching unholy fits all day long because he is not being kowtowed to in the way his puny ego demands it be wroshipped. Even if that man is your father.

  7. Children do not have to “earn” love and acceptance from their parents. That is not how parents families work. Your stepmother and her husband are wrong. When we are born, literally all we are able to do is eat, scream, shit, and sleep. We have no talents or skills, no language, no idea of how to please other people, no gratitude; but that doesn’t stop most parents from picking up a newborn baby and saying, “Yes. This tiny blob of a person who is about to make my life hell is someone I love from the bottom of my heart and would die to protect.” We are born infinitely worthy of love we never merited and devotion we can never repay. This is how healthy families work, how healthy parenting works: whether the parent gave birth, watched the birth happen, or didn’t come along until years after. We are loved whether or not we grow into adults who can give anything back to the people who care for us.

    And no matter how old we get, we never lose that worthiness for parental love. If the people who were supposed to love you choose to abandon or betray you, that’s not about you; that’s about them.

    If you can get a moment with your dad where you’re able to associate him and your feeling of being loved in the same picture frame, great; but that’s about you and the things you want and feel. It’s your calculation of what will hurt worse, and only you know that. But I just wanted to say: Your dad is wrong.

    1. LW, my mom used to tell me that she would love me no matter what. She would love me if I dropped out of college to devote all my time to meth, if I ran off to join a suicide cult or if I turned into a serial killer. She would turn me in to the cops, of course, but she would still love me.

      That is what parental love is supposed to be. It’s deep, primal and UNCONDITIONAL. A parent’s love for their child is the only genuinely unconditional love there is. You cannot earn it because it cannot be earned. It is not based on the child’s behavior. It either exists or it doesn’t.

      When a parent makes their love contingent upon behavior, upon being “good enough,” that love will never, ever be anything more than an insulting facade.

      Your mother and stepfather love you unconditionally. I notice they’re not playing cruel little fuck-fuck games that leave you doubting yourself and twisting yourself up into knots.

      LW, can you sit for a little while with your pain and grief? Can you take some time to yourself and think about what it would mean to you if your bio father never loves you? Or if he continues to make his love contingent on your behavior, which I’ve noticed he is conveniently not telling you about? If you knew that you would never have the relationship you want with him, not because of your own failings but because he refuses to be a kind person, what would your wedding look like? What would your future look like?

      There are times in people’s lives when the price of holding onto a desperate dream becomes too high, and LW, I think that time will be soon for you. Your desire for your father’s love is a dream, dearest–it’s a powerful one, one that you share with so many people whose parents haven’t lived up to their expectations. But it is a dream. Sometimes dreams come true, sometimes they don’t. I don’t think yours will. You’ve done everything it’s possible for a person to do, and your father has responded by spitting on your dream to let you know that it, and you, are worthless in his eyes. There’s no indication that anything will ever change.

      I think it might help you to hear from others with complicated relationships with their fathers. I would recommend the podcast Dear Sugar, episode 14: “How do we forgive our fathers?” I think it might speak to you.

      1. “A parent’s love for their child is the only genuinely unconditional love there is. You cannot earn it because it cannot be earned. It is not based on the child’s behavior. It either exists or it doesn’t.”

        This x 1,000! There is nothing that my son could ever do that would make me stop loving him. He doesn’t need to earn a place in my life because *I* chose to bring him into this world without his consent. He owes me nothing. LW, you don’t owe your father anything and you shouldn’t have to work to be deserving of his love. I am sorry that he thinks you should have to. That has to hurt more than I can imagine.

        Congratulations on your wedding, and whatever you decide I hope it’s a wonderful day for you and your beloved.

  8. Your wedding is about you and your fiance, LW, so plan it that way – it’s not about making your father happy or anyone else. If it would make YOU happier to not have him there, don’t invite him.

  9. i just want to say you are not stupid for loving your dad. that is not something you can control and it is not something you need to be ashamed of. that being said, the people you need to be fair to when it comes to your wedding? you and your fiance. do what you need to do to make it a good day for the two of you, and try to be realistic about what you can expect from the people around you.

    1. LW, I was going to say, your dad. I feel really badly for him. He has this daughter who loves him and wants to share the important things in life with him… And he’s incapable of treasuring that fact. What a miserly heart he has.

      And yeah. The comment above, about how love from parents isn’t s resource exchange. It just is. Or, it just should be. Earning is not the point. You’re not an emotional tenant farmer.

      Re the wedding. Do what you want. Don’t worry about what your dad wants to do.

      1. It’s definitely very hard LW and I hope you can find something that works for you. It’s ok to love your dad but you still need to do what’s right for you and assert yourself as you see fit.
        The thing is, family – true loving both ways family – is something we built too. You’re so lucky to have your stepdad – another dad- who had no biological investment in loving you but did anyway, and was there for you, and if you care about him and love him and he you then you should absolutely celebrate that.
        Your bio dad on the other hand had all the biological gubbins hardwiring him into loving you, had all the investment and experience of a girl with his own blood and a part of his own soul in her… And he can’t even bring himself to treat you with the decency of a stranger or aquintene, much less create a loving relationship. That’s fucked up on his part LW and he deserves very little mercy At all. The wedding won’t force him into a fairytale ending at all. But a wedding will make all the people who already love you feel all warm inside and proud as punch. Focus on them if you can and I think you’ll have much happier memories

  10. Letter Writer, this is a really hard situation for you, and I’m sorry you’re going through it. I would also like to call attention to this line from your letter: I just wanted him to be a good dad.

    He will never be.

    He has given you plenty of evidence that he doesn’t care about how he makes you feel. He doesn’t care about your happiness, and he certainly doesn’t care about being a good dad. If he cared about being a good dad, he would be one. But he clearly hasn’t ever been a good dad, and I think it’s pretty certain that he never will be. If you can, I think maybe you should think about trying to start to let go of the hope that you’ve held onto, that someday he would see things from your perspective and you could have the happy relationship you clearly want. Give yourself permission to grieve the fact that you didn’t get the biological father that you deserved, because it is definitely something worthy of grief.

    For the immediate future: if you want someone to walk you down the aisle, let it be your stepdad. Put your energy into the people who treat you lovingly. Good luck.

    1. Yes, this, and LW I think you might benefit from talking to a counsellor because you are in the stage of dealing with your father where you recognise intellectually his bad (awful, appalling, hateful) behaviour, but emotionally you’re still convinced that he’s a good, deserving dad who will be wonderful if only you can find the magic key that unlocks it. Not only do you still love him, but you still want to be “fair” to him, and you’re still trying not to break his heart despite the fact that he’s broken yours over and over again. The reason your fiancé doesn’t want him at the wedding is because they can see that your father doesn’t deserve “fairness”: he barely deserves the basic courtesy you’d give to a complete stranger, never mind you planning your wedding around his feelings.

      The thing is, no matter what you do, no matter how carefully and thoughtfully you plan the wedding, your father will still be an asshole. No matter what you do, for the rest of your life, your father will still be an asshole. Maybe one day he will work out how not to be an asshole, but if he does, he will do that 100% by himself. Nothing you can do will make it more or less likely. There is no magic key or thing you can do or say or make that will cause your father to stop being an asshole, and that will always be true.

      This is SO SO HARD. Everything in you wants to believe that your father isnt really an asshole, and that one day, hopefully soon, you will hit on the perfect combination that you’ve been missing all your life that will make your dad not an asshole. That is completely normal and natural and how people work. But your dad’s assholeness isn’t anywhere near your control.

      People aren’t designed to have shit parents: our whole psyches are built around the assumption that our parents are good people who love us, and when a parent is derelict in that duty it gives us massive cognitive dissonance and we have to believe all sorts of weirdly-shaped things to try and make sense of it. You could maybe do with some professional help to untangle the emotions and sadness and hope mixed up in the realisation that your father is not a good person but that your heart still desperately wants him to be. It isn’t an easy thing to manage at all, and learning to live with it is a long process, but ultimately it will make you happier.m

      I really hope you get the wedding YOU deserve, with or without your father. I hope you and your mom and stepdad and fiancé and in-laws build a beautiful family together. I hope you learn to be happy without your father.

      1. LW here, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to the comment thread sooner but I haven’t checked CA this weekend due to illness.

        All of the comments are really great, and so helpful, and this one in particular really, really got to me.

        Thank you all for being so kind and supportive and helping me see that I am not a monster to not know if I want to involve my dad in my wedding- it is not an easy thing but I have a great fiance and I know whatever I chose, we will make it through it and have a great day.

        xoxoxo to all of you, especially all the bad dad havers in the land

        1. Jedi hugs, K. I’ve been sobbing like a dysfunctional infant reading all these comments. I don’t have anything to add to what everyone has said, but, yes, your dad and stepmother are completely out of line, you aren’t, and I am glad you have a fiance and stepdad (and, presumably, others) who love and support you as you deserve. I hope you are somehow able to have a great wedding despite this nonsense.

        2. *offers jedi hugs*
          Hope you’re feeling better, K. Whichever way you choose to have your wedding, you deserve an amazing one, so lots of luck and best wishes for the big day (and all those that will follow).

  11. My dad is a horrorshow on that scale. He did come to my wedding. It…was entertaining? My MIL almost punched him and he got into a massive fight with my friend Josh and he called my husband a racial slur. So all in all, a great time, and I totally don’t regret inviting him at all.


    I love him dearly, but he can’t be arsed to behave himself, so I treat him like some kind of horrid thing I found on my shoe and scrape him off whenever I can. I know it hurts him, but he can either act like a grownup and NOT a giant breathing piece of poo, or he can…not. He’s a grown-ass human being and his horrible behavior is a choice he is making, over and over, and I am ALSO a grown-ass human being who doesn’t actually have to put up with that.

  12. LW, you wrote: “How do I even begin to decide how to handle this? to be fair to my dad, my fiance, and my stepdad all at once? ” My first thought was: “How can LW ‘be fair’ to HERSELF?”

    Here’s my story. 22 years ago, Spouse and I planned to elope to Vegas, but my (Darth Vader) mom begged us to ‘get married at home, I promise we can pull off an amazing wedding for you, if you just let us be involved’. And they were willing to pay for more than we could afford.

    A person has just one mother. I was only planning to get married once. So.

    I’m a pretty low-key person, as is Spouse. There were only a few things I actually cared about. Here’s how things turned out:

    + The green dress I wanted => an ivory dress. (I did get my shoes dyed green. Mom was livid. Whatever.)
    + My mother made me have my sister as my matron of honor, even though we hate each other.
    + I told the judge not to mention God (I was a Pagan, Spouse was not religious). My Catholic mother persuaded/bribed the judge to add in something about God, and he did.
    + I had made a floral wreath for my hair, but my mother insisted I had to use flowers from the florist they’d had at her wedding. So, the wedding bouquet and floral wreath flowers… were the wrong colors. Me being upset? “You’re too sensitive.”
    + My mother spent a lot of money on getting the bouquet freeze-dried, then mounted on a 6 ft diameter wreath, for a wall hanging. Gave that monstrosity to us as a wedding gift. Expected me to be thrilled.
    + My mother bragged(!) to me about getting the wedding decorations from her job, for free; assured me she could take them back to the store afterwards and sell them. Yay. They were also colors that set my teeth on edge.
    + The cake wasn’t delicious. It was barely decorated either – ‘to save money’. Yay.
    + My in-laws were all teetotalers so I told Mom we shouldn’t have alcohol at the reception. Not only did she make sure Spouse and I and my in-laws were served wine at the house after the ceremony, and at the reception, but there was a champagne toast!
    + There were 3 toasts: my father, my godfather, 1 of my brothers. My father said how great it was that Spouse was joining the family; my godfather and brother said generic platitudes. Nobody said anything about me, or about being happy for me.
    + I was really stressed the day of the wedding, and my father made fun of me for being ‘spacey’. My cousin (who was shooting the wedding video, for free) caught that on tape, and left it in.

    Upshot: I never look at photos of our wedding. We watched our wedding video once, 15 years later, and I was rageful about even more shit I didn’t notice at the time because Stress.

    I stopped speaking to my Darth Vader parents 10 years ago. Spouse and I will be renewing our vows at some point in the future, and I’m not inviting anybody. Stuff is going to be the way I want it, dammit.

    1. Huge jedi hugs. I hope your vow renewal is everything you want it to be.

  13. P.S. For the 12 years I was still in contact with my parents, every year on our anniversary, my mother would get all misty-eyed, and tell me “your wedding was such a great party! Everyone had a wonderful time! They’re still talking about it!” I would grit my teeth, and think to myself, “Well, shit, because *I* had a crappy time. Thanks for ruining my wedding, and then REMINDING ME ABOUT IT. Again.”

  14. We had a bit of a non-traditional wedding. We got married by my boss (who was a judge, and happy to do it), and then had a religious ceremony in my parents’ backyard. I will tell you, there was pushback. We couldn’t invite everybody in our families, or even all of our friends, and some of our family members had real issues with that. I won’t bore you with the details, but there was sniping, and it was unpleasant, but now 6 years have passed, and no one even remembers.

    So, I will tell you this: your wedding is for you guys. Too often, weddings end up being for everybody else, but they’re for you two. If your stepdad has been more of dad to you than your bio dad, ask him to walk you down the aisle. Or ask your mom! My cousins’ dad was a total loser, and so my aunt was the one to walk my cousin down the aisle at her wedding. Or ask your mom and step dad. Or walk yourself.

    You want to salve your dad’s conscience? Keep the guest list small and tell him that if he wants to participate, he can host a reception after the fact! We did that with my husband’s home church. He can show off his money, and you get to show up and then leave without your special day being overshadowed by him being an asshole.

    A good friend of mine had a destination wedding for this very reason: her bio family was super abusive and dysfunctional, and she only wanted certain people there. She invited the people she really wanted present and had a fantastic vacation/honeymoon.

    I will never forget what our florist told me when we were planning our wedding, and I expressed my unhappiness with the cake tastings we’d just had. Basically, she said, “The wedding is for you. Have your favorite desserts or cater them in. Don’t worry about what’s expected.” That principle can be applied to a lot of things. There’s nothing wrong with loving your dad and wanting a relationship with him, but don’t let him ruin what should be one of the best days of your life.

    1. When I got married the first time, my mom walked me down the aisle. I wasn’t inviting my dad to the wedding because he was an on-again-off-again absentee parent. When I told my mom that I wasn’t inviting my dad, she started suggesting other male relatives to walk me down the aisle. I said, “I want you to do it. You raised me.” She looked startled at first, because she was still buying into the idea that your escort down the aisle needs to be a father figure. Then she got all teary. Then we had a great time figuring out what she was going to wear. It was awesome.

        1. *jedi hugs*

          I was her only child, and she never remarried. We definitely had that “you and me against the world” relationship. It just seemed wrong to have anyone else. Maybe if I had had someone who was a strong father figure, I would have felt differently (that was almost 20 years ago, and I was still pretty caught up in the idea of the traditional structures of a wedding–I never even considered walking by myself.) But the saying was definitely true with us–my single mom really was both mother and father to me. There were a couple of years that I sent her something on Father’s Day as well as Mother’s Day.

  15. LW, everyone here has the right idea. This wedding is about you, and you should probably not even invite your biological father. He sounds like a complete toad. I recognize the breed, because my dad was a toad. The first time I got married, it was at the court house, my in-laws had a small reception at their house. My folks had split up a few years before, and my dad was still livid about everything. I invited my dad, who raged at me for not getting married in a church, and swore he would not come. So, I invited my step-father, who I liked better anyhow. And then, one of my sisters, meaning well, probably shouting, “faaaaaamily” at him, dragged dad to the reception. He lurked in the back of the house, quietly raging at me for inviting my mother and my step father. I spent a couple of hours moving from one part of the house to the other, embarrassed as hell in front of my new in-laws, trying to make someone else be nice on my wedding day, all because he couldn’t behave himself.

    The next time I got married, it was at the court house, just us two, and we sent out notices afterwards.

    I spent many many years wishing for the dad I should have had. There were years of therapy over guilt and grief and not being able to make him love me in a way I recognized. Yeah, I did sorta’ love him, but eventually I realized that I didn’t *like* him, and he didn’t like me, either. Certainly respect was not on the table either, in either direction. I filtered my children’s experience of that grandfather, for their own good. When I caught him trying his verbally abusive shit on one of them once, he never saw them again. In retrospect, I should have completely cut him out of my life when I moved out at 19, but I spent 30+ years struggling with the whole mess, trying to make it work. It was a waste of time and energy.

    TL:DR, let your fiance decide who to invite.

  16. This is disjointed, sorry.

    Sometimes, family-wise, it feels like everyone wants to make everyone else’s wedding about *them*. This is especially pernicious because women, brides, are socialized to give people what they want, so we “let” it happen because we don’t really know how else to react.

    LW, a truly good person, a truly loving father would be able to recognize his past shitty behavior, and would *understand* why you didn’t want him there.

    You can’t . . . LW, sugar, you can’t make someone show you that they are a decent person by bending over backwards to please them. *He* is the one who should be making concessions, eating crow, and staying the hell out of your way. And you can’t make someone show you they are a good person when they are no such thing at all. And that his what he is. A terrible person.

    I know what it’s like to love a terrible parent. Mine was my mother, and I never had the blessing of a kind stepmother to fall back on. I wish to god I had. So believe me when I say I understand a little of what you’re feeling when you want to show how loving and kind you can be.

    You can’t win his approval. You cannot. The only reason he offered in the first place was so he could have something to hold over you — I am thanking your lucky stars right now that you DIDN’T take his money, because if you had, he would have lorded it over you for the rest of his natural life. I want you to believe me, please, that the only reason he would even show up if you invited him would be so he could hurt you again. Let you down again. That’s all he has done, that is all he will ever do.

    I’m glad you have a therapist and a good support network. Rely on them. Don’t invite him. And when the day comes and you are wishing that loving!bio-dad who does not exist was there, when you wonder “What would it have been like if I *had* invited him,” stop and ask yourself “What would it have been like if he’d deserved to be invited? Because he didn’t. He didn’t deserve this. He has never been happy for my happiness, he has never shared anything with me besides the worst parts of himself. I deserve happiness, and part of that is having a day that will be free of the about-to-detonate awfulness bomb that his presence would create. I deserve to know that he won’t let me down again.”

    And since you may be feeling this: you don’t have to show him (or anyone else) you are the better person here. A tactic my abusive mother used ALL THE TIME was to hold my own behavior in contempt. If she hurt my feelings, and I lashed out, I was just as bad as she was. She always had this “If I’m so awful, PROVE you’re better than me by not holding me accountable for my bullshit.” And I am ashamed to say that for a very long time, I bought it hook, line, and sinker.

    I’ve seen something going around lately that says “You are under no obligation to light yourself on fire just to keep someone else warm.” Something like that, anyway. Well, you’re especially not obligated to do that on your frigging wedding day. He’s not even your spouse’s father, so there’s not that complication. He’s yours, and you get to decide whether he should be there.

    I think maybe you should just not invite him, maybe share some pictures with him via real mail, not email, and then start the long process of never, ever speaking to or seeing him again if you can possibly help it.

    I was afraid to cut my mother out of my life because I was afraid of losing the person I wanted her to be. She never was that person, LW. She never changed enough to be the mother I should have had. I was afraid of losing the hope she would change. And hope is painful to abandon. But you need to let yours go. He’s never going to do right by you. He simply never is.

    He will never love you the way you deserve. It’s up to you, sweetie, to love yourself. ‘Cause he ain’t gonna.

    So surround yourself with loving people on your wedding day, and enjoy it.

    You don’t have to prove a thing. This is an event for people to show YOU support and love, and there is no point in inviting anyone who has never done either of those things.

    My heart is with you. I hope that things go beautifully for you. I hope that you will always have happy wedding memories, not bad ones. Like I had. Please. Please, even if you can’t just automatically sever the really complicated relationship you have with your dad and your feelings about him, put yourself first for *this one thing.* You are allowed. You are literally entitled to this in a way nobody else is except your spouse. It’s YOUR WEDDING.

    And, also, your spouse deserves to have a nice wedding too.

    Good luck. Stay strong.

    1. The “prove your better than the dysfunctional person” dynamic is very interesting/destructive.

      The person with the raging personality disorder can behave any damn way they please, but the person they’re raging at is held to an impossibly high standard of behavior. If they cut off contact? Horrible person. If they lash out at being raged at? Horrible person. If they show any emotional response at all? Horrible person.

      It’s the curse of the capable. You CAN withstand the awful bullshit, so it’s expected that you will.

      1. @Minister of Smartassery – you’re absolutely right. “The curse of the capable” – that’s a killer phrase. I’m going to nick that and post it up where I can see it every day.

        As I see it, there is also another dimension to this dynamic – the person with the raging personality disorder gets to act out and be a “force of nature”, to show what an important special snowflake they are. The target has to suck it up because they are a lesser being and have to be more thoughtful about how they interact with people.

        Oscar Wilde nailed this one in The Importance of Being Ernest: “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?”

        1. Ack, I hate the phrase “force of nature” when applied to personality, because it usually translates to “person who does not understand boundaries or the fact that other people have feelings.”

          1. I will generally use it to describe people (such as, ahem, my boss) who want what they want when they want it and are totally oblivious to the effects their whims — often contradictory and NEVER given less than top priority — have on the people around them who have to deal with them.

            In my boss’s case, my field of fucks is not only barren, I have sown it with salt and tossed a couple of blood curses at it as well. There is no longer anything my boss can ask of me that is more important than what I, personally, need in that moment*, and if that makes my boss angry or upset or frustrated … well, payback’s a cruel, cruel master.

            * Of course, sometimes what I need is “Do what Boss wants so Boss will STFU and GTFA,” but my desire to be a good employee just because pleasing Boss pleases me … yeah, that’s dead and buried.

      2. You have clarified a pernicious thing that’s making divorce mediation very difficult (okay, not work at all) for me.

        Thank you.

        1. Yeah — I had a friend go through mediation and the process was very not good. It was like the mediator just felt it was their job to split the difference between “totally unreasonable position” and “reasonable position” to end up at “kind of unreasonable position, that punishes the person who started at reasonable”. She would have been better off to start out demanding the moon, because *that* would have been rewarded with half a moon.

      3. I have seen so many wonderful people allow disgusting, horrible, abusive people who are not worthy to lace their shoes walk on them, call them filthy, soul-eating things, take their time, their talents, and very nearly their souls in the name of “being the better person.” It is heart-breaking. It is, I think, the worst form of gaslighting: the one you do to yourself, where you try to prove your worthiness to a court with a hanging judge that has already condemned you to life in the prison of their shameful treatment.

  17. I had a similar dilemma 12 years ago when I got married. My dad was pretty judgmental. My mum a crazy alcoholic/drug addict. My stepdad violent alcoholic. My in laws were born again. Our siblings ranged in ages from 3 to 18. My parents had literally not spoken a word to one another in 10 years and all of my husbands biological family showed up. We also had two little ones of our own – 5 months & 2 years.

    To make sure things didn’t get too crazy we held our reception at the local RSL clubs reception room because they have a full time security crew and I was literally worried about actual physical fights. I hated the place but figured by not serving alcohol & having security we would be fine.

    I stressed about everything in the lead up to the wedding. I lost so much weight. I tried to be fair to everyone, but no one was happy and I was miserable the whole time. I had my wedding at a place I didn’t even want to go to because it was the “safest” option.

    In the end it all worked out fine. Everyone was well behaved and no security was needed.

    Why am I posting this? Because red the part above the day was fine. I was miserable for months. I lost weight. my hair started falling out. I literally couldn’t wait for the whole day to be over so I could go back to my regular life – which had little family contact. I had my reception at a place I hated for other people who don’t like me every other day of the year but happened to be able to be grown ups for one day.

    I don’t have any memories of my actual day. Just a feeling of being totally stressed out. I remember seeing my step dad with a beer at one point that he smuggled in. I remember my mother in laws speech about her being happy her son wasn’t a homosexual. I remember fighting a lot with my husband because I was so stressed.

    I guess I just wanted to point out that even if they do come. Even if they behave. Will it be worth it? For me it wasn’t. I can’t stand thinking about my wedding. It wasn’t worth it FOR ME.

    These people didn’t change afterwards. It wasn’t the thing that bought us all together.

    It is super hard if you really love your family and still hope that you can be one happy family. Even after my wedding I tried to hold onto it. It didn’t work out for me.

    1. I was the out-of-town guest, at a very similar wedding, who spent her time handwriting a brand-new set of place cards and repeatedly rearranging their placement with the harried groom minutes before his own wedding because the seating chart that showed the one single configuration that would keep the assorted combustible elements as far apart as possible had gotten lost along with the original cards. My husband, who’d been a good buddy of the groom’s before he moved away, was best man. His was the only smiling face at the head table.

      They’d have done better to elope, frankly.

  18. Weddings are so fraught with all the feelings. Listen to these commenters and the Captain, they are wise. You don’t owe your dad a single thing, for your wedding or otherwise. Especially on this day, you get to do what makes you and your fiancé happy and deepens your connection.

    One thing worth throwing in…if you have the resources, you can throw a little money at this problem and hire a planner or day-of coordinator. In advance of the gig day you can prep this person about the situation with your dad, whatever it turns out to be. They make great buffers or can even bring in security staff. Things getting heated? Oh hey look, it’s time to cut the cake! Somebody being a mean drunk? Bartender, cut him off!

    Best of all, as a hired pro, they’re outside your circle and won’t get invested in the drama themselves so the people you love can relax and have a good time. The only caveat is to make sure you discuss this up front so you know this is a role they are comfortable and capable of playing before you hire them for real. Ask them if and how they’ve dealt with family drama in the past and what they would do to address your worst case scenario.

    1. Yes. I have a friend who is very very very gifted at dealing with unruly drunk people. He was my Bridesdude. When he asked what his duties were, I told him: “Be at venue setup a few hours early and make sure nothing catches fire. Because of the venue, we have to designate a person who will be the ‘person to deal with any unruly drunk people’ and I need you to be that person. As a note, the person at the wedding most likely to be an unruly drunk person is my dad, who can mostly be handled with redirecting, asking him about old wrestling stories, and letting him talk your ear off.”

    2. This. My two best women were primed to keep me and my mother separate as far as possible on the day. Not in a nasty way but just so I wasn’t cornered. It worked. Get Team You around, OP!

  19. Reading this letter broke my heart because your father sounds a lot like my father. There was never a way to make him happy with me. I was constantly put in a position where I had to explicitly and subtly prove myself to him, and I always failed. I opted for estrangement, first from when I was 17 until I was 21, and then from when I was 23 onward.

    Our wedding was still touched by what I call Dad Drama: my younger sister vented her feelings about everything at me in an attempt to convince me to invite him, and my paternal grandparents explicitly told me (among other things) that I’d rejected them and their whole family and that I was hurting everyone. (That they did so a week and a half before the wedding, when it wasn’t possible to choose not to invite them, but when I didn’t have any time to heal from their words, was really awful.) What was painful was that since my parents’ divorce, my paternal grandparents did nothing to reach out, and they took the estrangement personally, refusing to see me unless I attended family events where my dad would be present. My wedding was, no joke, the third time in 11 years they accepted an invitation from me. It was far from the third time I’d tried.

    The Captain’s advice is wonderful, but I think there’s a piece missing that I know I had to deal with when my grandparents showed their true colors.

    It’s time to mourn your loss. There is absolutely nothing you can do (and nothing you should have to do!) to ensure he’ll be proud of you and happy for you. You can not do anything right, as far as he’s concerned, and so you need to do what’s best for yourself. In a way, it’s freeing: there’s no way to make a mistake. But it’s also terribly sad, especially if your partner’s family isn’t so fractured, and you WILL need to grieve. For me, what left me feeling so sad and helpless was knowing that my grandparents had chosen their son over their granddaughter, and there was nothing I could do about it. If I hadn’t invited them to the wedding, they’d have used that as a reason to “prove” I didn’t love them, and when I did invite them, they used it as an opportunity to punish me. I’m relieved they refused to stay after the ceremony.

    As for what to do about traditions involving family members: My mom walked me down the aisle, but she asked if she could. Originally, I was going to walk alone (I wanted to walk with my now spouse, but he wanted to have the experience of watching me walk down the aisle to him). He was walked down by both his parents. You’ve got a lot of options, and you can even forgo “walking down the aisle” and just start the ceremony at the front with your partner. Talk to your partner: your opinions are all that matters.

    1. great point about mourning the loss.

      Also, I am so so sorry you went through that. 😦 The most painful part of cutting the abusive person out of my life was having to come to terms with how her abuse was only possible because of the team of people who enabled her, who post-cut-off demanded to be vectors for her abuse, and who I also then had to cut off.

  20. LW, here is the most important question you can ask yourself — and demand an honest answer, too: “Am I thinking of inviting Dad to my wedding because I genuinely want him there, or because I fear the drama not inviting him will cause?”

    I am getting the sense that inviting your Dad is about drama avoidance, not about having the guests at your wedding whom you want to be there. If that’s true, then be honest with yourself: There is literally no way you can avoid your Dad’s drama if (when!) he wants to start that shit. You may as well give yourself a day when you know you’ll be free of it because He Is Not There.

    (Side note: a wedding I recently attended began with the officiant urging everyone to please take as many pics — not selfies — as they wanted and to tweet/FB to their heart’s content, because those were the wishes of the bride and groom, but to PLEASE shut off the ringers. You may well want to steal/adapt that for your own wedding, especially because if your dad finds out it’s your wedding and he’s not invited, he and his horrid new wife seem perfectly capable of trying to ruin the day by speed-dialing as many family and friends as they can. If it were me, I would block those numbers for that day. And I might forget to unblock them later…)

    Even if you are convinced that you want your Dad there, evil spouse and all, I would encourage you to listen to the other people involved in this ceremony, particularly your fiancé. They may well have a clearer picture of your dad and stepmother because they haven’t been all tangled up with those two their entire lives.

    Full disclosure: I have never been married and don’t really see it in the future. But if I were to get married, and my spouse were to black-ball one of my potential guests (even a family member), I’d for damn sure give that black ball some serious thought. In my woefully inexperienced opinion, a wedding is a time when people should be willing to say, “I cannot stand your cousin Claire, but if it’s important for you to have Claire there, I will grit my teeth and try hard to smile in the photo” — which means that an absolute HELL NO UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES carries even more weight than usual.

  21. In the back of my mind, I’m imagining a wedding in which the back of the space has a large curtain, and once all the other people are in place, the curtain lifts and/or parts to reveal the soon-to-be spouses, spotlighted and beautiful, with tears in their eyes as they escort one another to the officiant and the other celebrants.

    The rest of my mind is wondering where this frustrated stage manager has been all my life, and why it’s coming out NOW.

    1. Annnnnd that was supposed to be a reply to Phira, just above. My apologies for screwing up the threading.

  22. ELOPE!!! There is no way to get what you want so don’t waste the money. Spend it on the reception and invite everyone to that.

  23. LW, it’s okay to love your dad. Dads are important. They fill up an important space in our lives. I sometimes wonder if my family members realize that the reason I estranged myself completely from my dad two years ago is not because I stopped loving him, but because I can’t stop loving him. I can’t stop needing a dad, and no matter how many wonderful men and mentors I meet in my life or how great my mom is, there is always going to be a dad-shaped hole where a father should have been. I will never stop loving the person that my dad should have been.

    My dad is never going to be that person though. I walked away from him when I finally understood that he was incapable of loving me back. That he THOUGHT he loved me back, but his version of love was so twisted, narcissistic, manipulative, and draining that I was better off without it. That is when I let him go and gave myself permission to start grieving the loss of something I needed so badly. The emptiness was better than the reality, though neither was what I wanted.

    I am not you and your dad is not my dad. Our lives and situations are different. When it comes to making your decision, please do what will make *you* the happiest, within the allowances of reality. Your dad’s feelings are his own. Your wedding day is for you and your spouse-to-be, first and foremost. Make it a celebration. Make “behaving like a reasonable and compassionate adult” the price of entry. It’s okay to do that. Honestly, you are allowed to make it the price of entry into your life entirely.

    1. “I will never stop loving the person that my dad should have been.”

      Oh, this. My dad’s not ill-behaved–he was just so totally absent emotionally I remember sobbing on my mom when I was 15 or so, “Does he even love me? How would I even tell?” And now that he’s older and dealing with the reasons he was never there I’m learning how to have a relationship with the person he is–but that is so totally, totally different than the person he should have been, and wasn’t.

    2. “I sometimes wonder if my family members realize that the reason I estranged myself completely from my dad two years ago is not because I stopped loving him, but because I can’t stop loving him.”

      This made me cry. It is exactly the reason I am estranged from my own parents. If I didn’t care, I could be in contact with them. But it hurts too much, so no.

      LW, you are not a bad person for loving your dad. Indeed, it may not be something you can control. Wanting him to love you back is an honest and natural human thing. And it’s hard to come to terms with the realization that you will likely never have that.

      You have already gotten a lot of good, concrete advice on this thread, so I will only say:

      Do what makes YOU happiest. Even if it means not inviting him at all. If it means inviting him, do so in a way that minimizes your reliance on getting a particular approving behavior from him. He has already proven that he is not invested in your happiness (and this speaks about him and not you. Him and NOT YOU).

      But feeling hurt and sad and betrayed by this behavior does not mean you are a weak or bad person. It means that you are a decent, loving person.

    3. “The emptiness was better than the reality, though neither was what I wanted.” How very sad, but incredibly true. LW, allow yourself to grieve then slice up a huge piece of ‘fuck-it! cake’ and chow down.

  24. Hello. My mother is exactly like this. Know that nothing you can do or say will ever change what they think of you, because they have *already* made the decision about who you are to them. They show you this every time they make passive-aggressive or outright verybally abuse you.

    You can be the most beautiful, talented, wonderful human being and they will never, ever see that. Because they don’t want to, it’s not part of the story they’ve concocted about you for other people in their life. They’ll always find the fault even if there is none to find.

    It really hurts, I know. But best to move away from their influence, and quickly. I love my mother, but she doesn’t even know who I am or care, despite all the stories she’s telling other people about me.

    Don’t let them try their damndest and rain on your parade, and make your entire parade be about the weather. Cut them out 😦 *jedi hugs*

    1. Also! Most people will not even notice if your marriage ceremony isn’t perfectly 1000% traditional! The last wedding I went to, the bride walked herself down the aisle, the groom had no groomsmen at all and it was just a really lovely, touching wedding.

      1. Agreed! My brother and his wife are both Atheists so they got married in a registry office with just immediate family attending and then had a big INVITE-ALL-THE-PEOPLE! ceremony that they and a friend who performs civil marriages made up out of ‘this idea seems nice, let’s do it’ later.

        The father of the bride speech was joined by the mother of the bride speech & the mother and father of the groom speeches. (This gave my dad a nasty shock when he was informed because public speaking is not something he enjoys, but he rose to the occasion (admittedly with the help of quite a lot of alcohol) and made a great speech.)

        The part I remember the most is that my brother and sister-in-law poured water into a glass together to symbolise their unity. The glass was immediately snaffled by their one year old daughter who proceeded to drink the contents with every sign of enjoyment. No one there guessed that this not 100% part of the original plan.

  25. I get you, LW. I’ve tried to prove my entire life that I’m a good person to my parent. Not lazy, not a liar, not using them. And I actually love my parent, and we’ve had lots of good times together, but they just won’t stop assuming that bad things happen to me because I’m bad, or that I’m trying to get out of being a good person. They think this is love. I don’t. They told me they believe they have the right to express their love any way they like. I don’t believe that. But I’m not going to declare them a “bad parent”, because to me that’s not a good description. You love your dad and I’m not going to question that. You get to choose to keep trying to have a good relationship with him, if you want.

    I think the most likely thing is that he will keep being the way he is. Not getting better anytime soon (though people can soften as they age), not getting worse. What’s the least surprising things he could do concerning your wedding? What’s the least surprising way he could act? Plan according to what you think is most likely.

    Another thing – if you want to reconsider being walked down the aisle, there are other traditions you could use. Here, in Scandinavian tradition, the bride and groom walk together. That’s not a modern trend (actually the American tradition is getting trendy now), it’s the TRADITION here. It shows that they’re getting married out of their own free will. Basically “these two adults are making a completely un-coerced legal decision, no one is being forced, and no angry relatives need to avenge this in any way since everything’s fine”. The couple and their families are being joined BECAUSE they’re walking down the aisle by themselves, because they’re declaring that their marriage is a valid decision. So, feel free to import this tradition if you like it.

    1. My husband and I did this (in the US). We had a casual outdoor wedding with no “aisle” but we walked up to the ceremony site together. There was no one else who I would have wanted holding my hand in the minutes before our ceremony. That was really the only rationale.

      We both have pretty good relationships with our parents, too. I’m close with my dad, and he took not walking down the aisle in stride.

      As an aside, he was also thrilled that my husband and I insisted on a small, casual wedding that we paid for ourselves. He lives in ritzy corporate world and frequently gets invited to the 300+ person plus weddings of the children of his business associates. He and my mom go to these weddings for business reasons, and my mom always comments afterwards “I think that cake/dress/flowers/etc cost more than your entire wedding!” (to which I say, “Yes mom. People do spend more than 15k on a cake/dress/flowers. I would rather have a car or house.”) One of my dad’s clients mentioned to my dad that he spent ONE MILLION DOLLARS on his daughter’s wedding. By insisting on the small, casual wedding, I gave my dad a huge out of feeling like he had to reciprocate all of those invitations (“Oh, my daughter’s wedding? It’ll just be 15 people in her favorite park. She and her fiance are private people and love being outdoors.”). The downside of that was that there was no aisle walk. He commented that it was a good deal.

      tl;dr, people don’t have their dads walk them down the aisle for all sorts of reasons. No one will judge.

  26. I get you, LW. I’ve tried to prove my entire life that I’m a good person to my parent. Not lazy, not a liar, not using them. And I actually love my parent, and we’ve had lots of good times together, but they just won’t stop assuming that bad things happen to me because I’m bad, or that I’m trying to get out of being a good person. They think this is love. I don’t. They told me they believe they have the right to express their love any way they like. I don’t believe that. But I’m not going to declare them a “bad parent”, because to me that’s not a good description. You love your dad and I’m not going to question that. You get to choose to keep trying to have a good relationship with him, if you want.

    I think the most likely thing is that he will keep being the way he is. Not getting better anytime soon (though people can soften as they age), not getting worse. What’s the least surprising things he could do concerning your wedding? What’s the least surprising way he could act?

    Another thing – if you want to reconsider being walked down the aisle, there are other traditions you could use. In Scandinavian tradition, the bride and groom walk together. That’s not a modern trend (actually the American tradition is getting trendy now), it’s the TRADITION here. It shows that they’re getting married out of their own free will. Basically “these two adults are making a completely un-coerced legal decision, no one is being forced, and no angry relatives need to avenge this in any way since everything’s fine”. The couple and their families are being joined BECAUSE they’re walking down the aisle by themselves, because they’re declaring that their marriage is a valid decision. So, feel free to import this tradition if you like it.

  27. We had similar problems with my mother-in-law before the wedding. We thought we could contain the problem, make it a lovely day and that maybe she would be able to behave well for one single day. It was impossible stressful to set up, but the one thing we forgot is that however much drama she could cause over not being invited turns out to be tiny in comparison to the drama she could cause with a captive audience. She managed to insult or spread lies to just about every guest there and also the photographer, the band, the people working at the venue etc etc. she wrote horrible letters to my family afterwards about the way she was treated. We spent what feels like months apologising to everyone she upset, while she screamed at us about how we’d ruined her day (yes, her day). We regret far more the things we didn’t do to avoid offending her than anything else, because we couldn’t stop her behaving badly and we might as well not have made the compromises.

    If I could change one thing, it would be to be brave enough to tell my husband what I’m telling you now. Don’t invite them. Don’t feel like you have to invite them to make it better – you can’t. You are a wonderful person with a bad parent and that doesn’t make you bad too. Have a wonderful wedding day and do it your way.

    1. My wedding happened like this too. I should have stood up to my own not-so-good Dad rather than thinking that he would behave well for one single day. The damage was immense, and I still don’t talk to him / them.

  28. Good luck to you both, K & K’s fiance!

    FWIW, I’ve attended a wedding where a narcissist parent did their best to steal their kid’s spotlight, including being a half hour late to the ceremony. I’ve also attended a wedding where a narcissist parent put on all their charm for the audience and played the perfect parent. From your description, either outcome seems possible with your father. As others have said, though, not knowing whether your parent will try to ruin your wedding causes plenty of distress, whichever way it actually turns out. (Unfortunately, in NOT inviting a parent, there can still be stress around whether the parent will find ways to show up or otherwise be disruptive.)

    Can your magnanimous choices enhance your paternal relationship? I doubt it’d work long term until your dad changes his tune. It would require your dad to acknowledge that you have control over how the event happens. Instead, I strongly suspect he would give you little credit for inviting or involving him, but would try to give you years of grief if you did not invite or involve him.

    I hope that the Awkward Army’s replies help you and your fiance figure out your goals and strategies for your celebration. (It seems unfortunate when wedding planning is more tactical than logistical.) Glad to hear you have a strong support network, and I hope that your wedding can principally be a celebration with your & your fiance’s supporters!

  29. One thing that particularly caught my attention was your query about how you can be fair to your dad, and there’s something I just want to point out here:

    Being fair to your dad would, at this point, involve having no contact with him ever again (your wedding included) and taking out giant adverts throughout the area listing his many examples of appalling behaviour so that everyone around him knows just what a sorry excuse for a human being he is and he ends up alone and miserable. If we’re looking at what is a fair response to his behaviour, that’s it. That is what true fairness would require in response to the way your father has chosen to act towards you.

    Now, I’m not advocating the giant adverts (tempting, but expensive and associated with too much in the way of complications and backblow), and whether you decide to cut off all contact needs to be up to you and what you’re most comfortable with. So the above isn’t a prescription or anything. I just wanted to make the point that you do not have to figure fairness to your father into the equation here, because he has, by his own choices and own behaviour, created a situation where fairness from you towards him requires no further effort whatsoever from the rest of your life. Absolutely anything you give him from now on in regard to your time, your energy, your affection, your resources, anything… is a bonus over and beyond what he has any right to expect. You answer the phone to him in future, that’s a bonus. You say hi to him when you meet on the street, that’s a bonus. Nothing is required.

    So, you get to take fairness to him out of your list of considerations here. What do you actually want to do? What, out of the options that are actually available (which sadly do not include your dad making the decision to act like a decent human being), is going to give you the most pleasure, or at least the least stress? What about your fiancé, your mother, your stepdad? Focus on those things. Your dad is an adult who made the choice to act like a dick, and you get to protect yourself from that.

  30. See, when you describe your dad, and the way you feel about him. What I hear is a carefully engineered situation that works entirely to his advantage, and to your detriment.

    Your dad has crafted a narrative in which you are perpetually unworthy, perpetually having to “prove” your worth to him. So he gets all the best aspects of having a child without any of the obligation to provide for, care for or perform even the most basic of human decencies in return. What is his worth that he is apparently so special that *you* need to prove yourself to him? At what point has he, ever, proved his worth to you or proved he deserves to be a part of your life? It’s gotten to the point where your father is being explicitly abusive towards you and you’re still conflicted about cutting him out of the wedding for fear it would break *his* heart. But how many times does he get to break yours?

    I get that it’s scary and hard and painful. You’re so used to this narrative in which you are powerless, and must wait on his suffrage for the things that a parent should give freely – their time, love and consideration. But the truth is, if you turned around tomorrow and said you were Done, that you no longer had any desire to try and pursue or maintain a relationship with him, that he was out of your life and that was the end of it, he’d panic.

    I’m not telling you to do that, of course. You need to work out what is best for you, here. Whether than ends up being a relationship where you have set up and enforce clear boundaries, one where he’s more like a distant relative you try to be civil around, or one where he’s absent from your life is down to your needs and what you feel able to manage. But I really, really don’t think you need to feel any kind of guilt or concern over *his* needs or expectations for the wedding.

    I recommend you pretend, for the purposes of your own mental and emotional wellbeing, that he isn’t a part of your life. Pretend he doesn’t exist. Plan your wedding as you would if your stepfather was your only father. And then, when the plans are in place, if you still feel like you want your dad to be present, send him an invitation. But don’t build your wedding, or any other aspect of your life, around someone who respects and cares for you so little that they treat you the way he does.

    He’s the one who isn’t worthy of you.

  31. I’m going to have to go back up and read some of these awesome comments later, but like many here, I saw a lot of myself in your situation. My dad likes to show his love with money. He likes to pay for stuff and feel like a provider, and that can feel manipulative when I don’t want the money, I just want an emotional connection. He does WANT to be a good dad, but his wife hates me and my now-husband. I invited them both, and my dad came alone and left early. He gifted us a nice check to help with the wedding, but never wanted to discuss any of the details when I was planning. (Ideal for many, but for me it wasn’t about the money, it was about feeling approval.) I’ve been married for four years now, and we have a child. Our relationship is still strained to this day. He visits a couple times a year, alone, and I go up to see the extended family during the holidays once a year. We are never invited to his house. My stepmom leaves the room every time I’m in it, and hasn’t said a word to me since I got engaged.

    Terrible people are going to be terrible, and no outside influence will make them change or see the light. I hope you use the wedding as practice in this kind of disappointment, because your dad will in all likelihood remain the same person he is now, even as you are growing and changing. That sounds very negative, and I’m sorry. It sucks.

    I’m glad you have a strong support system. Lean on them, and as you are planning your awesome wedding (all weddings are awesome so long as the bride and groom are happy!), be mindful of happy-shiny wedding blogs that might make you feel bad about your situation. Off-beat Bride and A Practical Wedding were fantastic resources when I felt like I was the only bride in the world with family problems.

    And congratulations!

  32. i understand your pain a lot. My father decided that because my wedding was not a traditional church wedding (he’s a church minister) he chose to tell me two months before he wasn’t coming, and basically caused a lot of conflict in my family about it.

    The decision that I made for myself in the end about that was that he’s made decisions for himself that he now has to live with, and that’s not mine or my husbands issue. Your father is making some very horrible decisions and while I know you love him and there’s a really big part of you that’s even going to want him there on the day, the decision for him not to be there will be the LEAST stressful (and the lead up is going to be stressful no matter how big or small you make it) for you, your partner and its your day with your partner.

    Keep you and your partner happy, not the people that are screaming at your (or you!) choices. Those that love you will respect them and those that make the wrong decision by you have to live with it, not you.

  33. The point of a wedding is not to fix or strengthen your relationship with your father, even if he weren’t abusive. The point of a wedding is for the two people actually involved to share some serious vows and strengthen THEIR relationship and move forward together and begin a marriage. Any other people are only there insofar as they can support them in that.

    Do whatever you need to do to stop thinking about your father or stepmother or even your healthier relatives. Whatever arrangement will get him out of your headspace and far far into the background where he belongs on your and your fiancé’s wedding, do that.

    If you want to try to do something for your relationship with some other family members besides you and your fiancé, do it some other time, IMO.

    1. SO MUCH THIS!

      Even in a family that doesn’t have a toxic parent in it, there is a temptation to turn a wedding or other milestone event into a Very Special Episode in which some long-simmering conflict is finally resolved. But life doesn’t work that way. Have the wedding, which is about you and your spouse-to-be sharing your happiness with people who you are reasonably certain will not show up with metaphorical flaming bags of poo. If your dad or anybody else can’t be trusted not to bring a metaphorical flaming bag of poo, do not invite.

      Please hear this, from a fellow child of toxic parents: Whatever your dad gets out of doing what he does to you means so much to him that he doesn’t want to give it up. Or thinking of himself as always a good person is so important to him that he doesn’t want to face the knowledge that he has hurt his daughter repeatedly and grievously. Or he is constantly repeating a conflict with somebody else, in which you have been selected as that person’s stand-in, and because you’re not that person the desired resolution can never happen, no matter how many times he tries. Regardless of the source of his abusive behavior, putting your happiness on hold until he quits doing it is like putting your life on hold until you’re thin enough. Don’t pour your life down the drain of his need to keep hurting you. Set boundaries. If he won’t honor them, cut ties. He’s a big grown-up person; he can take the consequences. And if he can’t, that’s an issue for a psychologist to fix–not you!

  34. It’s depressing to hear about weddings where what people mainly seem to remember is what happened between them and their mother/father/cousin-in-law or how the wedding affected their relationship with their sister.

    Sometimes people seem to get caught so caught up in the tradition of celebrating a wedding with lots of family that they forget what a wedding actually is – two people making promises to each other about their life together.

    If other family is hindering rather than helping this goal, then yeah, they might be better off not inviting any other people, i.e., eloping. You can always have a party later with lots of family.

    Though maybe they don’t want to get married with just the two of them and a couple of officials, on the other hand. For some people having lots of witnesses to their vows is part of the point of the ceremony and part of why they are getting married formally instead of just making promises in private, so there’s that…

  35. LW, it’s not clear to me whether or not you have already accepted and/or made use of any money your Dad offered – you mention agreeing to his help, but nothing else, so ignore this comment if the amount is “none”. But just in case….
    Unless he explicitly put strings on this (“I will help pay for the wedding and you will X, Y, and Z”) – which I bet he didn’t, or you’d never have accepted it – you still don’t have to do anything he wants you to. You don’t have to have any consideration for him, even if he were paying for the entirety of your wedding.
    If your Dad is anything like mine, and he sounds like he is, the money came with a tacit “and you will let me treat you however I want”. That’s bullshit, LW. Even if you take his money, if there is no verbal contract between you about it’s use, then it is a GIFT. It is a gift he chose to give you that comes with no strings attached. It does NOT require that you let his wife scream at you over the phone, it does NOT require that you put him at the centre of the wedding (I understand, you want to, but I kind of agree with everyone here: it will not make him a good father, it will just stress you out and give him a prime opportunity to ruin your wedding), and it doesn’t require that you even have him at the wedding at all.

    1. LW, here, wanted to clarify- the second paragraph is pretty much how it went. The initial offer was only “this is your day and we want to help” which turned into “you’re not listening, your’e not behaving, you’re a money grubber, you don’t love me you only want money” which turned into me and my fiance saying, please keep your money we don’t want it, which turned into silence and fury. No money actually exchanged hands because I realized it was going to be the same as his “gifts” always are- with many, many strings.

  36. I think the issue here is your hope vs. reality. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and your dad has a proven track record of behaving like an ass.

    Your hope: That he can be a good dad for a day. That he could see past his own anger/pride/need to show off and put your needs first.

    The reality: He’s not a good dad. Being put in a high stress, emotionally fraught situation in which he will have to interact with people has declared “not good enough” will not magically make him a good dad. If anything, it will bring out worse behavior in him.

    Your hope: Somehow, this wedding will show your dad that you’re “good enough.” That inviting him and his harpy wife to the wedding will show the level of respect they demand to be a part of their oh-so-special family.

    The reality: He’s not a good dad. He’s had his chance to see you as a good person over the last twenty plus years. His harpy wife has many chances to stop being a harpy. They have not claimed those opportunities. One day is not going to change that.

    Your hope: That you can pull off this wedding without making anybody mad and be fair to everybody.

    The reality: Even nice, non-crazy people who are rational 99 percent of the time behave like total asshole when weddings are involved. You’re not going to be able to make everybody happy. You’re going to make someone mad during this process.

    So basically, you have to choose whose feelings you’re going to hurt. Your mother and stepfather, who have been loving parents. Or your father, who you describe as cruel, emotionally abusive, financially manipulative and controlling.

    Bottom line, if you invite him, do you think the weeks following the wedding will involve him calling you to compliment you on the lovely ceremony and thank you for involving him and your stepmother? Or do you think it will be rants about the honors you should have paid him and stepmom, the microscopic slights they perceived, how everything could have been so much better if you’d just let him pay for everything?

    You say you’re afraid breaking his heart. But I think you need to ask yourself, are you truly afraid of hurting his feelings or are you afraid of doing him a narcissistic injury and the vicious backlash that will result as he tries to “get his back?” Does your fear of this backlash outweigh your desire for a relatively peaceful day that you can remember without pain and regret?

    1. Hi, Minister, sorry to nitpick, but there was something in your comment that put me on edge:
      “So basically, you have to choose whose feelings you’re going to hurt. Your mother and stepfather, who have been loving parents. Or your father, who you describe as cruel, emotionally abusive, financially manipulative and controlling.”
      I don’t think that’s a fair thing to say. The LW’s not responsible for other people’s emotions. Whether she chooses to let her dad in on her big day or not, she cannot change how people are gonna feel about it, so it’s not fair to tell her she’s got a choice there.
      Also, I think that suggesting her to choose between her “loving family” and her “cruel family” is mean. I’m sure you didn’t mean it in a mean way, but how would you feel if a strange on the internet asked you to choose between “X family members of yours” and “Y family members of yours”?
      Please, let’s try to tread lightly, fellow strangers on the internet. Those are other people’s families we’re talking about.

      1. Meh, I think it was fair what Minister said. And to characterize it as a zero-sum choice between the loving family and the cruel family, this is very accurate.

        I say this because keeping cruel, uncaring people in your life affects more than just yourself, it also affects everyone who cares about you, by way of them having to support you through all the emotional pain that the cruel people will inflict, and by the cruel people inflicting their own emotional abuse on the loving people. And lastly, don’t discount how distressing it is to watch someone you care about let themselves be treated like trash by another person.

        I don’t think there is a light or gentle way to talk about this subject.

  37. Sounds to me as if Dad has pretty affirmatively stated that he doesn’t actually want to take part in planning the wedding or attending it. I see no problem in not discussing it any more with him and also not sending him an invitation. People who treat us badly are not allowed to attend our special events. “People” includes parents. The other attendees at the wedding probably know or have a vague idea that Dad is a terrible person and won’t be surprised or even care too much that he’s not there. Some people may even be relieved. If someone does bring it up at the event:

    NOSY PERSON: “Why isn’t your dad here? Didn’t you invite him? How could you NOT INVITE YOUR DAAAAAAAAAD?”

    LW: “We haven’t been getting along, so he’s not here. Did you get the salmon or the chicken cordon bleu? Hey, I think they’re about to play the Macarena!”

    1. LW: He’s right there, sitting next to my mom.

      NP: I didn’t mean your STEPdad, I meant your REAL dad.

      LW: Wow. [confused and yet still somehow contemptuous expression on your face as you turn your back on this person]

    2. As it happens, I didn’t invite my mother to my wedding and no one said a single word to me about it. It’s entirely possible my now-husband warned his side of the family not to bug me about it, but it’s just as likely they were too well mannered to pry.

  38. How do I even begin to decide how to handle this? to be fair to my dad, my fiance, and my stepdad all at once?

    LW, you don’t have to be fair to your dad. It sounds like your dad has been profoundly unfair to you for most of your life.

    Please don’t walk down the aisle on your wedding day with a man who has told you, explicitly and in his own words, that you will never be good enough for him. I know it’s heartbreaking, but please believe him when he tells you that. You will never be good enough for him. And that is not your fault. It’s his fault, because he has a daughter who loves him and cares for him and wants to be in his life, and he has thrown that back in your face over and over again. I think you will regret having him at your wedding as anything more than a guest.

    If being given away by a father figure is an important part of the ceremony for you, ask your stepdad to do the honours. You don’t have to do anything to help your dad save face. You know from long and hard-earned experience that he’s going to be a nightmare not matter how you choose to run your wedding. So have the day that you and your fiancé want and officially absolve yourself of all responsibility for taking care of your dad’s feelings.

    Also, goes without saying, but never ever ever accept any kind of financial support, direct or indirect, from him ever ever again.

  39. I think the issue here is your hope vs. reality. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and your dad has a proven track record of behaving like an ass.

    Your hope: That he can be a good dad for a day. That he could see past his own anger/pride/need to show off and put your needs first.

    The reality: He’s not a good dad. Being put in a high stress, emotionally fraught situation in which he will have to interact with people has declared “not good enough” will not magically make him a good dad. If anything, it will bring out worse behavior in him.

    Your hope: Somehow, this wedding will show your dad that you’re “good enough.” That inviting him and his harpy wife to the wedding will show the level of respect they demand to be a part of their oh-so-special family.

    The reality: He’s not a good dad. He’s had his chance to see you as a good person over the last twenty plus years. His harpy wife has many chances to stop being a harpy. They have not claimed those opportunities. One day is not going to change that.

    Your hope: That you can pull off this wedding without making anybody mad and be fair to everybody.

    The reality: Even nice, non-crazy people who are rational 99 percent of the time behave like total assholes when weddings are involved. You’re not going to be able to make everybody happy. You’re going to make someone mad during this process.

    So basically, you have to choose whose feelings you’re going to hurt. Your mother and stepfather, who have been loving parents. Or your father, who you describe as cruel, emotionally abusive, financially manipulative and controlling.

    You say you’re afraid breaking his heart. But I think you need to ask yourself, are you truly afraid of hurting his feelings or are you afraid of doing him a narcissistic injury and the vicious backlash that will result as he tries to “get his back?” Does your fear of this backlash outweigh your desire for a relatively peaceful day that you can remember without pain and regret?

  40. Here’s how I handled something similar at my own wedding, which worked.

    No step-dad in the picture, and my dad is not remarried. My parents finally split up about 4 months before my wedding. My dad was a great dad when I was younger, but as he got older, he got very very narcissistic, self-centered, and I don’t think I’ve heard him apologize for anything at all in at least 15 years (including being late to my wedding.)

    I had my grandmother walk me down the aisle. She is the only surviving grandparent on either side (i.e. my side of the family or my wife’s side of the family), so it was a pretty clear choice. As I got closer to the wedding and my father grew more distant, I fretted about what I was going to do, but once I somehow happened on the idea of having my grandmother walk me down the aisle, it was very clear.

    She was honored to do it, she was on time to my wedding, and it was lovely. It also brought us closer together as a family.

    We did invite my dad, but he was the only single person on the guest list whose invitation did not say +1. I’m not sure how feasible it would be for you to invite him without inviting your stepmom.

    At the wedding itself, he mostly caught up with some of my cousins on his side of the family and sulked a bit.

  41. There are so many things I want to say about this and a similar story I could share, but I’m going to boil it down to this:
    If every person who you invite to play a role in your wedding party is someone you can absolutely rely on, and who you know loves you and wants to make you happy, your wedding will be far less stressful and more the joyous occasion for which you would hope. From your description, your father doesn’t fit that criteria, and shouldn’t be in a position where he can ruin the day for you. If he can behave as a guest, then that’s your call whether to invite him as per any other guest, and if he doesn’t come, that’s on him.
    Consider asking your stepdad to escort you, if you like that tradition. If you’re happy to break with tradition, but don’t want to walk alone, you could walk with your mother, a sibling, a bridesmaid, best friend, or really, anyone who you know is filled with happiness for you and will support and encourage you.
    Good luck, I truly wish you and your fiancé a joyful wedding and a very happy life together.

  42. Dads. Fathers. *deep sigh*

    Mine doesn’t have the money, but he’s got that same attitude. He did spare me during my wedding – partly because I was up to *here* (indicates eyebrows) with his antics, and I invited him to “walk home if you’re so worried about the way I drive.” And partly because he got a very nasty attack of gout the day before the wedding, so not a lot of energy for extra Dad-drama, apart from making me dodge the comment “You look like a raccoon!” – I was test-driving wedding-day make-up (which his second wife – not, mind, my step-mother, although she’s a nice enough lady, was definitely not-nice when telling off her husband for such a crass remark).

    You really want them to *be there* for you, step up to the plate and say, “Yes, daughter, I see you and accept you as a total human being, and am interested in your special take on the world and everything in it.” But, alas… in my case, I stopped communicating with my father over 20 years ago. I made an exception: when each of his siblings died, I sent a condolence card. One that I wrote from the position of “I will say things as if to a normal human being who has just lost a loved one.” That earned me the complaint (delivered via my somewhat shamefaced brother) that he only ever heard from me if someone had died.

    The next condolence card, I got a bit “crazy” in my fashion: in the time since stopping with communicating, I’ve been studying $ORIENTAL_LANGUAGE, including its writing system, so I hand-made the condolence card, using brush calligraphy to render the “With deepest condolences” message in both English and $ORIENTAL_LANGUAGE. A quick aside: these are not easy skills to master, but because I love writing systems beyond reason, I’ve devoted the guts of a decade to getting passably good at it. Anyway, it was a little thing, that made me deeply happy while having to make this gesture.

    Now, while Daddy-Dearest doesn’t have a direct address for me, he knew to send one of my friends a message – which apart from some boiler-plate that obviously came from the mail-shot sent to the rest of his post-funeral mailing list, included the information that he had taken my brush calligraphy/translation to be assessed by a professor in the country of origin of $ORIENTAL_LANGUAGE, and could therefor convey to me the result that my translation was “succinct.”

    Shorter version: ‘sort of good, daughter, have a cookie.”

    Leopards, as they say, do not change their spots.

    If this sounds like something your father could do to you, LW, I fear you will have your heart broken by your generous desire to keep him included, to keep giving him opportunities to be the Real Dad. You do not deserve the pain of that betrayal, even if you have to choose for the hope of a Real Dad when putting the final touches to your wedding plans. Out good Captain has some very sound advice, particularly her advice to carefully analyze what parts of “traditional” are most personally meaningful to yourself and spouse-to-be, or her focus on backpedaling the status of (and your interactions toward) your father & current wife to that of “anyone else”, so that their shenanigans lose some of their power to hurt you, or – finally – these words from above, “There is no fixing the situation because you don’t have control over the person who is being a jerk. You can choose how much and when to engage, to a certain extent, but that’s all you can really do.”

    Strength to you, LW. Wishes for every kind of strength.

  43. Hi, LW.

    You letter really spoke to me. I too wanted my dad to be a good dad. I too love him despite all the logical valid reasons that say I really, really shouldn’t.

    My dad is not the dad I need, but he’s the one I have. And when I learned, and accepted, that he wouldn’t *ever* be the dad I needed, I had to let go of my expectations of him ever becoming a good dad. Those expectations weren’t fair on either of us: I was setting myself up for heartbreak and disappointment, and was setting him up for frustration, every time I expected him to act like the good dad he could never be. Because he is not the person I need him to be. He is the person he is.

    I cannot change another person to fit my needs. I just can decide whether I continue my relationship with them. And in order to do that, I have to match my expectations to what the other person is willing and able to give me.

    In my case, this meant lowering my expectations *a lot*. And it was a really sour pill to swallow, but once I did, a great part of the stress and tension souring our relationship disappeared. Just, poof, up in the air it went: I wasn’t setting both of us for heartbreak any more, I was instead letting us be who we were and letting us have the dysfunctional father-daughter relationship that we are able to keep. And it’s broken, and the ragged edges hurt. But it’s ours. It’s what we have.

    So, LW: I believe you. I believe that you really love your dad. I believe that you feel stupid about it. I do about loving mine, too. Funny thing is, feelings are not about our brains. They are messy, stupid things, and absolutely none the less valid for it.

    Your father is telling you what kind of a person he is. Your father is telling you what kind of dad he can be for you. He’s telling you that by yelling at you and being cruel to you and harming and manipulating you. Listen to him: he cannot be a better dad for you. He just can’t. Nothing you can do can make him a better dad for you. I’m sorry.

    LW, please place your expectations with someone who will meet them. It’s not your fault for having expectations* and needs. It’s not his fault for being unable or unwilling to meet them. You shouldn’t have to get by without getting what you need from a dad, or without getting what you need for your wedding, though, so place your expectations, your needs, somewhere else they’ll be met. You deserve to have them met. You deserve to be happy. You do.

    So, if having a father figure walk you down the aisle is something that you need to do, have your stepdad walk you down the aisle, because you deserve it, it’s your wedding, and your dad has proved to you he cannot meet some of your most basic needs (for example, the need/expectation of being treated with basic respect in a conversation). Plus, he’d make it all about him**, and your wedding is not about him.

    I’m so sorry about your dad, LW, and I hope you and your fiance have the beautiful, amazing wedding you deserve. I wish you lots of happiness.

    * They are totally valid a reasonable expectations for how a good dad should behave and how he should treat you, by the way.
    ** No matter what you do, he’ll make it all about him. If you let him walk you down the aisle, he’ll boast about how he’s responsible for your big day/the person you have become, and try to erase you out of the picture. If you don’t, he’ll make a scene about how ungrateful you are/how no one cares about his feelings, and try to erase you out of the picture. So, you might as well make the decision that makes you happiest.

    1. “Listen to him: he cannot be a better dad for you. He just can’t. Nothing you can do can make him a better dad for you. I’m sorry.”

      Yes. A thousand times, this.

    2. A thousand times all of this.

      Also, as someone with a difficult, awful father who “gave in” on my wedding day and did as much “traditional” stuff with him as I could tolerate (mostly because he was still married to my mom at the time and she insisted that she would spend the whole day feeling ashamed if I didn’t do the traditions with him, and I hadn’t had enough therapy at that point in my life to realized what a massive amount of manipulative bullshit that was), giving in is one of my biggest regrets – my wedding was lovely, and mostly happy, but I can’t look at certain pictures without cringing and feeling sad. And the thing is, I knew before I agreed to all of it that it was going to make me feel that way, and that all of my memories of that day would be affected by it, but I let “propriety” and other people’s feelings and opinions out-rule my own gut instinct. For you, LW, all I can say is, try to get in touch with your own gut feelings about this and then stick to what feels right to you. You will be happier for it in the long run, even if you have to deal with other people’s bullshit about your decisions in the short run.

  44. “My stepdad is a good dad and always has been. I want him to walk me down the aisle, but I know this will break my dad’s heart.”

    If being consistently shitty to you, and allowing his wife to be consistently shitty to you, hasn’t broken his heart by now… this won’t either.

    He doesn’t care about your feelings, so feel free to leave his feelings out of your plans.

  45. I’m really sorry you have to deal with this heartache near and on your big day, LW. Is it possible to invite your dad and MIL, share a few sentences with them, and then avoid them altogether until they decide to leave? Maybe exchange a few words here and there in passing.

    I suggest this because, at my own wedding, there were people I felt obligated to invite (both because I love them and wanted them there and also because I did not want to cause more drama). One was an uncle who was dealing with the divorce of him and my aunt very terribly, and who had also mentioned being opposed to the wedding to begin with. The other was a friend who was, at one time, a bit more romantically involved with me and who was in danger of doing/saying something very stupid (my husband had already met him and they were friends). I invited them, said friendly greetings, and ignored any attempt to start conflict, however small.

    There was also my alcoholic father, who I also did not see much, mostly because he drank a whole lot of whisky without me noticing and had to be carried to a bedroom. Which, in all honesty, much better than anything else that could have happened.

    Our wedding was fairly small, just a backyard shindig, so it’s possible to do it even if there are only a few people attending! I think it’s totally valid for you to want your step-dad to walk you down the aisle instead of your biological father. A good choice, even.

  46. Right. This is my making a massive supposition, but I come from a bad family situ myself, with some very toxic members, and I have to ask, LW:

    Do you love your dad? Or do you love the idea of a dad?

    Because judging by what you’ve written, he sounds like a dreadful person, and your love for him sounds based on an ideal you hope he will one day live up to (not a high ideal at that). But, if that’s the case- he won’t. He never will and the more you try and put him in positions where he can be that decent dad, the more he’ll disappoint because he’s not. The only way out is not to play. Mourn the dad you never had, and move on.

  47. LW, what good things does your dad bring to your life? Like, what about him makes you enjoy his company and want to seek it out? Really think about this and try to answer it for yourself without using the word “family.” My guess is you won’t be able to because he honestly sounds like a goddamned dementor. Would you let a stranger who had treated you this way into your life, let alone your wedding?

    1. (Apologies if this is a double post; my net connection has been flaky tonight.)

      I think “dementor” should become the new CA term for the people who manage to suck the joy out of whatever situation or gathering they find themselves in. It’s perfect.

        1. Team You, the Awkward Army, good therapists, safe friends and family and partners . . . .hopefully one or many of these will prove to be a good patronus.

  48. LW, honey, I send you Jedi hugs. This situation sucks.

    When my cousin “Julie” got married, her parents had been split up for years and her dad had been through at least one other marriage in the meantime, having cheated on both my aunt and his second wife. My aunt had remarried to a lovely man who was a great stepfather and whom Julie loved dearly. Her dad is- difficult is the politest term. A raging narcissist is probably more accurate. He’d spoilt her high school graduation, her brother’s graduation and joining the army and just about every other event they’d had by trying to make it about him.

    In the lead up to her wedding, Dad decided that her having both him and her SF walk her up the aisle was an insult to his fatherly pride or something and pitched a fit. Then he refused to come, and spent the next few weeks alternating between pretending to be reasonable and raging that she was denying him his parental rights and trying to get her SF banned from the wedding, which didn’t happen. On her wedding day, after he’d agreed to walk her up the aisle, he threw another fit and flounced out of the church. They finally ended up with the minister walking her up the aisle (God bless him for his kind heart) after she got calmed down and my other aunt (who we offered up for canonization) sequestered Dad away from the bride.

    My aunt was utterly livid. Julie spent weeks crying over this nightmare man, including being late to the ceremony because she was so distressed by his antics. It will probably not surprise you to hear that Julie no longer speaks to her dad, and that he was not invited to her brother’s wedding.

    I tell you all of this for one reason. Your dad doesn’t care how you feel. He cares how things look. If he cared at all how you felt, he wouldn’t be holding you to arbitrary standards that you have no hope of meeting because you don’t even know what they are. He wouldn’t allow his wife to be abusive to you- he wouldn’t have married someone who is cruel to his children. It’s all about him, and the only way to win his game (for a certain value of winning) is not to play.

    Don’t invite him. He has utterly failed at the basic task of being a parent- loving and caring for his children. He is not worthy of you, not the other way around.

  49. My mom is not your dad, obviously. But I see that letter and I think “I could have written that about my wedding.” I tried to let her be involved because I didn’t want to break her heart and somewhere in there, I realized that it was never going to be enough. It was a nightmarish 13 months that took a sledgehammer to our relationship. Seriously, at one point, in an argument that was nominally about the menu at my shower, she declared, “I guess I just won’t be your mother anymore!”

    To this day, I wish I’d eloped. I wonder if my mother and I would have a healthier relationship.

    LW, I know you love your dad. I love my mom. My love for my mother is… stubborn and enduring and confusing sometimes. But, if he’s like my mom, nothing is going to make him happy on your wedding day because your wedding day is about YOU and not about him.

    I offer you jedi hugs if you want them.

    1. “nothing is going to make him happy on your wedding day because your wedding day is about YOU and not about him”

      Quoted for truth. I’m sorry both you and LW have/have had to go through this.

  50. I’m sorry your Dad thinks you aren’t good enough for him. But that’s not your fault. It’s his. He was supposed to teach you how to be good enough for him while he was raising you. Getting divorced from your mother, marrying somebody else, fathers do that all the time, and they still manage to raise their children to be good enough for them. Berating you isn’t a good way to do that. But it’s too late now.

    Not walking you down the aisle is not going to “break his heart.” It is going to hurt his ego. Most people, those are two different things. Doesn’t seem that’s true for him.
    He thinks he’s bought a ticket to your wedding for him, and probably for his wife. I don’t think you should send it to him, but if you must, assign him a handler who will interfere with any attempts to start a fight or get snippy or snooty at you, the rest of your family or your husband-to-be or his family. Somebody who, when asked what he thinks he’s doing will answer “Keeping you out of trouble so you don’t ruin the wedding.”

    That’s a useful way to handle anybody who has no class, btw. Assign them a handler.

    1. Yep, this. A friend of mine has parents who’ve been divorced since she was 5 or so, and she’s lucky to have had both a good dad and a good stepdad for most of her life. When her wedding came along, she really did have a tough choice to make between them, but ultimately went with her dad walking her down the aisle and stepdad doing a reading (or something else significant). Now, I can’t say that her stepdad may not have been a little hurt, or felt left out, or whatever. But because he was a good guy and knew that a wedding wasn’t a referendum on his feelings for his family, or theirs for him, he didn’t make a fuss about it.

      I guess I’m saying that this idea of of “you’re going to break your dad’s heart” with this one action shouldn’t feel like a threat hanging over you.

      1. totally! Life is full of slights, many of them in situations like this where there is no way to be “perfectly fair”. So people who are well-intentioned just deal with them. People like the LW’s dad look to weaponize them.

    2. I’m sorry your Dad thinks you aren’t good enough for him. But that’s not your fault. It’s his. He was supposed to teach you how to be good enough for him while he was raising you.


  51. LW, I want to offer you all the Jedi hugs in the world. I think there’s already a ton of great advice, so I just wanted to share one teeny wedding idea with you, from my own wedding last year.

    The minister stood at the altar, and Spouse and I walked towards each other, from opposite sides of the venue, alone. We wanted to communicate to our families and friends that we were equals. And, it was my 2nd wedding and my dad is dead, so … aisle, shm-aisle.

  52. My MIL is a horrible person who treats my partner horribly. She performed all kinds of antics leading up the the wedding, including threatening not to come, threatening to come and stand up at the “if anyone knows a reason why these two should not be married” part, changing the plane reservations at the last minute so they arrived two hours before the wedding (having spent the previous 24 hours flying in from another country and then driving five hours to the location of the wedding) instead of arriving the day before so they could rest up from the trip, and telling everyone at the wedding how much she hated me.

    My partner was awesome through this, lots of “sorry you feel that way, you’ll be welcome if you decide to come”. My own mother didn’t believe me when I told her how awful my MIL was, until she witnessed the wedding shenanigans. But! I had one uncle and one aunt (my mom’s BIL and my dad’s sister) who were both extreme extroverts and who I trusted to love me absolutely. I simply arranged with them to be in charge of my partner’s mom. When my partner’s grandmother insisted during the post wedding party on singing a traditional Ukranian wedding song and my MIL was screamng in Ukranian to try to get her mother to shut up before people found out she was an immigrant and because her mom was making her “look bad” (but the screamng didn’t?) my uncle deflected her, I have no idea how. When my MIL burst into noisy tears because I had stolen her child, my aunt hugged her and sympathized and calmed her down, I have no idea how.

    And I heard later there were other incidents, but my partner and I did not have to know about them, because our plans specifically included people who had agreed to manage her. She was a slight distraction, but never ever the center of attention, and that was awesome.

    LW, your father is who he is, but your wedding is not about him or even about your relationship with him. Sub-contract handling him to someone who will minimize his antics and focus on making it the most awesome day you can for you and your fiance. You can worry about figurng out your relationship with your dad some other time. Let the wedding be about the forming of a new family with your fiance.

  53. I have a not good dad, too. Different circumstances. I believe he loves me, and there is still a part of me that loves him. But he hurt me in a terrible way and wants to still be in my life without having to take responsibility for his actions or getting the help he needs. Like you, I was desperate to try to fix it somehow. It just wreaked havoc on my emotions. I finally decided to not have contact with him. I deleted him from Facebook and asked him not to call me. And you know what? I feel so much better not having all that drama in my life. It’s 1,000x better.

    I’ve learned that it’s impossible to earn the approval of manipulative people. They dangle their approval like a carrot from a stick to keep you constantly reaching. Your dad will be angry when you decide to stop playing his game, but he will not be brokenhearted. That assumes he has a heart to break. Manipulation is a tool of the callous. Your accommodation can not win him over. He’s a jerk today and will be a jerk tomorrow. The only thing that MIGHT get through to him is a complete and utter stalemate.

    Good wishes for you, K.

  54. LW, I’m so sorry that your father is a source of stress for your upcoming wedding. We have a similar dilemma in my family, where there is a large rift between my mother, and our younger sister and her father (our ex-stepfather.) When I was planning on having a wedding about nine years ago, I immediately started to worry about how I could possibly have everyone I wanted there. I couldn’t possibly not invite my mother, but I also wanted my younger sister to be a bridesmaid. I worried that everyone would come and it would be, at best, horribly awkward, or that my sister and her father would simply choose not to come, which I would have understood but would have made me very sad, and angry at the situation.

    As it turned out, I became pregnant with my first child pretty soon after we started planning the wedding, and we ended up having a courthouse wedding about a year after she was born and the only people who attended were my best friend and her husband and our infant daughter. We had a celebratory dinner afterward that included more people, but it was not an entire-family affair.

    When my older sister got married a few years ago, I imagine she came to the same conclusion: that it would be absolutely impossible to include both our mother and our sister. My older sister also chose to get married privately, with only her stepdaughter and mother-in-law in attendance, and then shared pictures with everyone afterward.

    I’m not saying you can’t have a wedding – of course you can! But “being fair” to everyone just won’t be possible. I think you should be fair to YOURSELF first. I’m in favor of either asking your stepfather or your mother to walk you down the aisle, and letting the chips fall where they may. Your father will probably act like a huge jerk about it and you can handle that any way you’d like. There’s no magical solution that will make your father act like he SHOULD, which would be to support you and follow your wishes for the wedding with no drama.

  55. LW, there are different kinds of fair.

    There’s the fair that means everyone gets an exactly equal share. This is a really good fair to use when, say, handing out cake at a kids’ party.

    Then there’s the fair that means people experience the consequences of their actions. Your step-dad has been there for you, has loved you, and has been kind to you. Your bio dad has been a selfish, mean asshole. It wouldn’t be unfair that your step-dad was the one who walked you down the aisle, while your bio dad sat at home wondered why he never got an invitation to your wedding at all. That would actually be very fair indeed.

  56. You want to be fair to your dad. IMHO that means the only consideration he gets is

    -do you invite him and his wife
    -make contingency plans if you’re worried one of them will cause trouble

    Have the person you want walk you down the aisle. Maybe it’ll hurt him, but I see that as being his fault for being the kind of father his daughter would consider not even inviting rather than the kind his daughter would want walking her down the aisle. Inviting my FIL was never on the table for my wedding, and while I’ll never know his feelings on the matter, he’s the one who drove his family away to the point that only one of his kids still talked to him.

    You love your dad, you want him to be a good father. That’s natural. But the unfortunate truth is you need to deal with the person he is, not the one you want him to be. It’ll hurt, you’ll probably grieve, and the whole situation sucks. But you can’t make him change and if he has a problem with the results, that’s more his fault than yours. You first duty is to have the wedding you want, not to babysit the emotions of a grown ass adult.

  57. LW maybe the question you’re asking shouldn’t be ‘how can I turn my Dad into a decent father’ but ‘why am I constantly banging my head on the brick wall that is my Dad and his wife? I think what you need to do is try and accept that this is your Dad. There is no second better Dad hiding inside him who’s going to burst out and start being there for you when you earn enough money/have a baby/buy a house/discover cold fusion.

    There are no ‘Wedding Police’ who are going to arrest you for having your Step-Dad walk you down the aisle. And maybe the best wedding gift you can give yourself is spending less time with your Dad.

  58. LW, I sympathise. Wedding stuff is really stressful and I’m sorry that your Dad is a giant butt.

    My mum is the giant butt in the family, and pretty much she alone ruined my wedding.
    Oh, let me count the ways:

    – She took ‘boarding’ money for me while I was still living with her. That’s totally cool! Except I expected that money to be used for, you know, living expenses. Instead she ‘saved it’ for my wedding, and I paid extra for bills, food, etc. She demanded she pay for the catering for the wedding with the money I had been giving her.

    – Because ‘she’ was paying for the catering, she imposed heavy limits on the number of people attending. Bear in mind I was, alone, bankrolling everything else, having saved pretty much every penny from my job that wasn’t going to board and ‘board’. In the end, most of the guests were my mother’s (FAAAAMILY), about half were my partner’s (which I fought tooth and nail for), and guests that I, the bride, actually wanted there? Numbered 3, one of whom couldn’t make it.

    – Being overwhelmed and miserable as I was with her catering manipulating, she managed to make various decisions about the wedding. I was too tired to fight it, so in the end I had an undecorated hall, too little food, a stupid cake, and a bunch of other small things I have thankfully forgotten.

    – I made my wedding dress. I was also made to make my sister’s bridesmaid dress (I didn’t want a bridesmaid – I was goaded into it) and a top for ButtMum, who didn’t even wear it.

    – I have since suffered various pokes and prods about how she paid for all the food at my wedding, and how expensive it all was, and how if I’d just gone with her first selection for catering there would have been enough food. I fantasize about telling her that if she hadn’t lied about the money I’d been giving for board, she wouldn’t have had to pay a cent.

    In the end though, I recognise I couldn’t have done anything else at the time. She is abusive, and I was riiiight under her thumb, had been for years. To the point where I spent the first three days of my marriage crying! While on a cruise ship!
    It turned out well, though. By the end of our honeymoon, spouse and I had such a good time that we’re going on another one soon. Our marriage is solid, and I have mostly recovered from the difficulties of living with a professional butt. My spouse is good at making fun of ButtMum when she does something childish (like whine about when I cut my hair).

    I didn’t enjoy myself (this is the first time I’ve ever admitted it) and I’m sad I didn’t have a pretty wedding, but the marriage is what matters. No matter what choice you make, LW, the marriage is the important part.
    (That said, I hope everything goes beautifully!)

  59. “Of course, by two weeks after our engagement, things had devolved. My dad, and then his wife had called to insult me and my mother (whom my dad still hates, almost two decades later) and call me names etc. My dad was apparently in the room and let her do it. We haven’t spoken since. That was 3 months ago.”

    ” And frankly, now that my dad can’t show off his money, which he loves to do, and the event won’t be about him, I don’t even know that he’ll come.”

    “He is married to a woman who hates me and my siblings, and they have both been honest with us about this since we were kids and they got married. They both think we haven’t tried hard enough to get her to like her or to “earn” our way into being part of their family, which we currently don’t deserve (his words.) I have tried to keep him in my life as much as possible and do what I can to prove to him I’m a good person, and always have.But he’s been pretty consistent in his vocal belief I’m not a good person, and never will be.”

    I get that you feel torn apart, that comes through in every part of your letter. I don’t see how your Dad can be the judge of whether you are a good person and I hope that the friends and family you can count on are being supportive right now, your situation sounds upsetting and unfair and not something you should have to be dealing with.

    Here’s an idea. Your Dad disinvited himself from the wedding when he insulted you then let his wife do the same. You’re not even sure he will come and you’re not sure he should come, and I’m betting you’re feeling guilty for even wanting him to come in the hope that he will for that one day behave. So how about letting yourself feel sad for what could have been (but almost certainly wouldn’t have been) the day you hoped for, and then formally disinviting him? In fact don’t even do that. Make it clear that you “Understand that he feels strongly about the situation – he’s made that clear – and that you’re saddened that he feels that way and that you won’t be seeing him on the day. However, perhaps it is for the best”.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll get stony silence back, but I think what’s more likely is that once these people who are making your life hell are cut out of being able to play that game, you’ll get some last minute good behaviour, so they can get re-invited and start stirring shit up again.

    To which you are welcome to say that you are glad they want to patch things up and they are welcome to have you and your spouse over *after* the wedding, and how they behave to you on that event will dictate any future relationship. And only do that if you want to.

    If you are generous, *you* can let *them* “earn” your respect and your goodwill. Because right now you owe them niether.

    *p.s Weddings are a joint affair and your fiancé – who gets as much of a say in the day as you do – already doesn’t want your dad there, for understandable reasons. I’ll bet that your Dad feels like he can say, well, just anything he wants to you and you’ll just suck it up. But getting across the fact that your dad has lowered himself in your fiancé’s estimation, to the extent that your fiancé doesn’t want someone there who will be mean to the person they are marrying? That might provide a handy lesson that not only do actions have consequences, but that there’s a new person in the picture, whose opinion you care about more than your dad’s and who doesn’t have any reason at all to put up with your dad’s shit. Your dad clearly doesn’t feel he has to earn *your* respect, but I wonder if telling him that he’s lost the respect of your fiancé (a newcomer to the family who can’t be emotionally manipulated) might at least get acros the message that he’s overstepped?

    Please be as nice as possible to yourself and give yourself permission to stop worrying about this as many times as you need to. I really hope that you have a wonderful wedding and a run up to it filled with people who both care about you and demonstrate that decently.

  60. Unfortunately, the prospects that he will change are remote. All Jedi hugs to you as you navigate this difficult situation.

  61. Sometimes I really wonder how different loving your abusive family is from loving an abusive partner.

    LW, you may feel like you love your dad, but if he’s not good to you, you CAN cut him out of your life. That is an option. What do you get out of loving a person who doesn’t respect you? Imo it’s the same thing, whether that person is a blood relation or not.

    This isn’t hypothetical talk. I cut my father out of my life nearly 10 years ago and I’ve never regretted it. I didn’t even tell him I was getting married, let alone invite him to the wedding. So the wedding remains, in my mind, a happy memory untainted by the presence of people who don’t respect me. Take that as you will.

  62. I’m really sorry you have to deal with this, it’s super hard to feel an emotional bond with someone who treats you terrible and makes you feel bad.

    I haven’t read all the comments so perhaps someone else suggested this. My partner and I eloped and only a few select people even know we are currently married. We plan to have a traditional wedding that our family can ruin all they want and we don’t care because they aren’t ruining our actual marriage day.

    My mother and one sister are Ruiners and just the idea of planning a wedding with them there gave me terrible anxiety. So on a lark we took a long weekend trip to our favorite city and on the way there partner threw out “hey, what if we just get married while we’re here?” and I was like YES! I won’t get into the details but it was PERFECT and thrown together in less than a day. When we came back we planned to tell everyone we were engaged (the almost immediate death of his father and his subsequent emotional breakdown foiled our plans a bit).

    Because I really want a big wedding with all of our cultural traditions and families there. Only now when my mother or sister pitches a fit and calls me a selfish b*tch and screams at me, or his brother-in-law gets in a fight with his cousin, or my dress rips, or we run out of champagne I won’t care (well maybe if we run out of out booze I will!) because we already had OUR perfect marriage day with zero drama and lots of support and love and it was amazing. It’s also empowering to have this big, lovely secret that the toxic people in your life don’t know about and can’t ruin.

    I don’t know if that’s something that would appeal to you LW, but to me it’s the best of both worlds: a drama free marriage day that was truly ALL about us, and a big traditional wedding with our families. Best of luck not just with the wedding but also in coming to terms with what kind (if any) relationship you want with your father. Also YES to offbeat bride – it’s a great community!

    1. This is exactly what my oldest sister did when my late mother threatened to make the wedding All About Her. So much less stress!

  63. Another one saying that even with lots of reasonable people involved, wedding planning can bring out some very strong feelings and cause some weird fights even so. Also, I recommend you do what you and spouse want for things that are important to you as any decision you make has the potential to piss off someone, especially someone unreasonable like your father. I have one (honestly fairly small) regret from my wedding that I was pressured into picking a dress that I didn’t love because everyone with me thought it was awesome. I liked it, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t what I pictured in my head and I’m still a little bummed I didn’t push back harder on it. Otherwise, my husband and I didn’t compromise one bit on the things that were important to us and we let folks help and have lots of input on things we didn’t really care about that much and we had a great time, guests had a great time and we had all the people we wanted involved having a place in the ceremony and/or reception.

    If you do invite your Dad (and no judgement either way, it’s your decision to make!), I would recommend having a trusted friend or two that can help keep an eye on him and his wife so you can worry less about them anyway. I didn’t have any major drama brewing among guests, but I still had a good friend of the family designated as the go-to person to keep things running smoothly because otherwise we knew people would either come to me, my husband, or my Mom which we didn’t want and of us having to deal with minutiae on that day, we wanted to enjoy it unless there was a true big problem we needed to give input on. Some folks get actual wedding planners for this, our ceremony and reception were pretty straightforward, so a friend was able to be the coordinator without too much trouble.

    Anyway, good luck to you LW and I hope you have a blast at your wedding!

  64. I’m thinking of a watershed moment when I was fretting to myself how to respond to the latest in a series of hectoring communiques, when the thought popped into my head: “What if I just stopped trying and didn’t respond at all?” I answered myself, “I would be a real asshole if I did that.” Then I thought, Huck-Finn-like, “All right then: I’ll be an asshole.” The immediate results were astonishing. I felt as if my soul were sucked back into my body from somewhere outside it. And not only did I suddenly quadruple my power to deal with that situation, I also had the mental spoons for about twenty other daily decisions that had nothing to do with the situation at all.

    I called it my Asshole Epiphany.

    I’m not saying that made the situation itself easy, but giving myself permission to be an asshole a) drastically reduced my fear of being stuck for life with an obvious, objective sign over my head that says Warning: Bad Person Walking Around Here, and b) rearranged my mental budget so that one person was no longer taking up all my executive functioning resources, which c) led to having a clearer and more positive view of myself. Roomy, comfortable mental budget = amazingly improved self-image, go fig.

    All of this is to say that the other commenters are right to observe that your bio-dad is not going to change and that you owe him nothing; but I would add also that you owe yourself a better mental budget for an important milestone in your life. You know the authority is yours; using that authority, I can testify, is a worthwhile risk.

  65. LW, you are so much better than I. I’d let it slip back to my dad via mutual friends that due to statement-x-which-was-one-of the-worst, I’d picked my dress out with the idea of kicking him in the groin and yelling, “SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS! FREEDOM!” at the end of the aisle.

    Seriously, the thing abo0ut walking the bride up the aisle is its symbolism. You’re looking at it like you’re honoring someone who was always at your back, but the original symbolism— “the bride is my property and I am giving her away,” seems right up your dad’s mental alleyway. You worry about breaking his heart, but a heart that treats its own daughter the way you have been treated has been broken for a long, long time.

    1. And it’s your dad’s therapist’s job, if he has one, to fix it, and his to protect it. It’s not your job!

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