Straight Talk Advice

Mar 28, 2012

Divorced father threatens daughter’s wedding

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I am 22 and getting married next month. We are planning something special in the backyard of a friend's house with our families and friends. My father has written a check to cover most of the food. The problem is my parents are divorced and my father cannot stand being around my mother. He says if my mother is coming to the wedding, he will not attend. For years my father and I weren't close and now he is stepping forward with this contribution. I don't know what to do! My mother and I are close. She would understand if I asked her to bow out. But should I? —Sad Bride-To-Be, Palmdale, Calif.

Christina 19, Marysville, Calif. Ask me a question

No! Tell your dad you refuse to choose between them. Invite them both and assure them of seating as far apart as possible in the front row. If your dad doesn’t stay to celebrate, he can still walk you down the aisle and watch your vows.

Gregg 20, Los Angeles Ask me a question

I can relate. When my parents first broke up, having a complete family gathering hardly ever happened. But this is your wedding! Invite both parents and let the choice to attend be theirs.

Tori 17, Sebastopol, Calif. Ask me a question

Don't feel self-centered for refusing your father. He is the one being self-centered. It's nice that he is trying to be closer, but don't let him put your relationship with your mother on the line. Financial support is great, emotional support is greater.

Colin 18, Sacramento Ask me a question

Tell your parents to grow the heck up! Unless one of them murdered someone dear to the other, there is no excuse for their childish behavior.

Justin 25, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

Of course a mother is invited to her daughter's wedding! If your father won't attend, he is failing at both fatherhood — and sanity. Explain that if he can’t deal with it, he obviously cares more about himself than you. And if he thinks money matters more to you than having your mother there, show him how wrong he is.

Brie 20, Santa Barbara, Calif. Ask me a question

He is using his contribution to sway you. Don't fall for it. You will regret it the rest of your life. I work lots of weddings. Generally, there are enough “buffer” people that your parents won't have to talk to each other. Tell him how important it is to you that both parents attend. My divorced parents dislike each other, but they would put everything aside for a something like this.

Katie 18, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

What I know from bridal consulting coursework is that each parent wants to feel equally important. Sit them down separately. Find out their needs, discuss ways to accommodate them in the same space, and demand that they remain civil and composed.

Kira 19, Moraga, Calif. Ask me a question

My parents divorced in freshman year and it wasn't until high school graduation that everyone was together in one place. My dad was like yours; he couldn't stand being around my mom and her new boyfriend. Your dad needs to accept that you are inviting both parents, period. (Does he really think you wouldn't invite you own mother?) If he doesn't show up, that's his regret.

DEAR SAD BRIDE-TO-BE: I'm so glad you wrote. I wish I'd had this advice when I was your age. I could've written this letter. No matter how excited you are that your dad is finally stepping up, or how guilty you feel for not accommodating his wishes, you must not fall for this emotional blackmail. Chances are excellent that your dad will attend regardless. And if he doesn't, it's not your problem. You've done the right thing. The panel's advice is spot on. I hope you follow it. —Lauren

Editor's Note: Having lived through it myself, I have tremendous empathy for children of parents who have been distant due to post-divorce bitterness. The child feels guilty for the lack of closeness and then, when that parent steps up once the child hits adulthood, that child is vulnerable to emotional manipulation. It can be extreme, as the letter from "Sad Bride-To-Be" indicates.

I fell for a similar scenario, to my life-long regret. My dad stepped up during my wedding plans and guilt about our distance and fear of losing him again led me to play along with his refusal to be anywhere near my mother. I went forward with the unthinkable and asked my mother to bow out. It even seemed reasonable. (Fortunately, my mother kept loving me — to her lasting credit.)

I and my siblings learned the hard way. It was the last holiday that we were kowtowed by our father's wounds. From then on, we invited them both to everything and let the cards fall where they may. And guess what? He kept attending things! He wasn't happy, but he didn't want to miss out. (What we couldn't see earlier was how much of his rhetoric was bluster and power play.)

And guess what else? Etiquette was on our side. Good manners never obligate a host to share the guest list with those challenged individuals who might demand access to it. —Lauren

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