My dad refused to come to my wedding
As the last of my bridesmaids left my side to walk down the aisle, she gave me a reassuring squeeze. Then I was completely alone – and terrified.
Who would have thought I’d wobble? I’ve always been independent, feisty, and since my teens, I’d resolutely maintained that I would never be ‘given away’ at my wedding, nor take someone else’s surname.
My attitudes hadn’t changed by the time I got engaged but other things had. My parents had gone through an acrimonious divorce, followed by my brother cutting ties with our father.
Our family wasn’t exactly harmonious, but still it was a shock when, six weeks before my wedding day, my father told me he wasn’t going to come.
He said it almost casually, matter-of-factly, over lunch. I was floored, but have a knack for keeping my game face on.
I asked why, and he cited many reasons: my refusal to be given away was insulting and made his presence pointless; the venue, three hours’ drive north, was too far away (I had to bite my tongue to refrain from mentioning that people were flying 24 hours to reach it); accommodation would be hard to come by; a number of fatal accidents had occurred on that stretch of road.
Granted, we’d never had a close relationship. When I was young, he was strict and emotionally preoccupied, and as I got older we talked about books, politics and history, but avoided anything personal.
Looking back, he hadn’t talked about wedding arrangements in the effusive manner my mother did – but that wasn’t unusual.
He got on well with my fiancé and everyone in my family – dad included – had been delighted when we announced our engagement after four years together. I just assumed my father’s attendance at the ceremony was a given.
I think I could have better managed the rejection if he’d just told me that he didn’t feel up to the stress of being around the rest of my family, or that he was nervous. I live with anxiety and mild agoraphobia, so I can sympathise with people who choose not to attend big events. I also wasn’t so self-absorbed as a bride-to-be not to realise that the occasion would be fraught with worry for people other than me.
But having my father tell me that it was essentially my fault he wasn’t coming – that hurt.
I knew, deep down, that I hadn’t done anything, or asked for anything unreasonable. Even where money was concerned, we had – independent as ever – said from the outset that we would pay for our own day. Yet it had all been twisted into a narrative of ‘I am going to reject you and justify it on the basis that you have rejected me’.
I didn’t want to add fuel to my dad’s blaming fire by asking someone else to walk down the aisle with me so, as my last bridesmaid left me – there I was, all alone
I knew my father well enough to understand that if he didn’t want to be there, there was no point in pressing the issue. Not once did I ask him to change his mind.
In private, I swung between anger and tears, dull acceptance and excruciating embarrassment. I focussed on the fact the arrangements were casual anyway. There was no need for a top table, nor a seating plan as the barbecue buffet could be enjoyed by people on picnic rugs or at tables – wherever they felt comfortable.
We planned to keep speeches to a minimum – more of a toast, than anything else – so that the father-of-the-bride speech would not be conspicuous by its absence.
Even so, as the day approached, I agonised over what my fiancée‘s family were thinking. Some of them had already expressed dismay about the travel involved: what on earth would they say about my own, relatively local, father opting out?
I think my fiancé had forewarned them, and they never brought it up, but it felt strange to simply not acknowledge my dad’s existence – the ‘he cannot be named’ quality to our interactions was excruciating. Similarly, in almost every conversation I had with Dad, there were things left unspoken. I felt fractured and uneasy.
Would I have called the whole thing off and just eloped or – better yet – never married at all? Without a doubt, but I was too far in. The yoke of matrimonial responsibility was firmly settled on my shoulders. This wedding was now, more than anything, something I just had to brazen out.
I didn’t want to add fuel to my dad’s blaming fire by asking someone else to walk down the aisle with me so, as my last bridesmaid left me – there I was, all alone.
I went slowly, smiling at as many guests as possible. If anyone looked askance at me, I didn’t notice it – and if anyone talked about the absence of my dad, they didn’t do it in my earshot.
The day, like most wedding days, passed in a blur of champagne and chit-chat. Months of planning for something that seemed to be over in the blink of an eye.
I don’t know how my dad spent it. Was he sad? Relieved? Did he pour an extra glass of something and silently toast us, or read a passage in one of the many books I’d left at his place over the years, in an effort to feel connected with me? I have no idea.
I saw him a week or so later and, aside from the extra metal on my left hand, nothing had changed. To this day, my father and I have never spoken of it. Our infrequent conversations still take place on safe, non-emotional ground.
My children have looked at photos of my wedding and asked where grandpop was, to which I’ve simply replied, ‘He chose not to come’ – and they, with the unquestioning acceptance of children, have left it there.
I feel desperately sad for us both – him, for missing a one-off occasion and me, for the angst that the day was cloaked in.
I know that many people are not able to have one or more of their parents at important moments in their life but I wish this situation had been more open, more honest, more clear cut.
I feel sad for my children, too: I suspect that as they grow up and enter into relationships of their own, they may be more curious about the circumstances.
I only hope my answers will be reassuring enough.
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