Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

From the Mailbag: Brother of “Hurt Daughter” Responds

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I received from my sister your response to her letter, and I feel it is appropriate to provide the correct context for the events described by my sister and my reaction/comments to her.

My sister and I had a discussion over her decision to not invite our dad’s wife to her wedding. I explained that, in my opinion, if she chose to not invite her, it would place our father in an impossible situation of having to “decide” between his daughter and his wife, and that it would mean there would be NO chance that our father would attend the wedding. He must exist with his wife (whether my sister likes her or not) on a daily basis, and to expect him to suddenly choose her over his wife was an unrealistic expectation, especially given his history. I was clear that, if she went down this path, there should be NO expectation that he would attend or lift a finger to contribute towards her wedding.

After my sister told my father she was excluding his wife, I spoke with him and impressed upon him the importance of attending his only daughter’s wedding. I implored him to have a meeting where the four of them (sister, fiancé, dad, wife) could try to get past whatever issues had occurred. He refused, and I let him know he was acting like a child. I also suggested that his wife could attend as my guest. (I am a divorced single dad raising a then-5 year-old who was with me 80% of the time–so I had/have no dating life between work and my son.) I felt that I could ensure that the “loose cannon” was kept from doing anything to take away from my sister’s day. Especially so if I was in charge of monitoring her. Unfortunately, none of my efforts or suggestions were received by either side with anything but disdain and more arguing.

My sister then asked me to walk her down the aisle. I accepted. On her wedding day she completely fell apart prior to the start of the ceremony. Why? Because our father did not show up at the last second to walk her down the aisle. So it fell upon me to get her into the proper mindset (as you pointed out in your response) that there were people out there who “don’t suck–who value [her] and show up…” .

Obviously, despite having made the decision to not invite his wife, my sister had an unrealistic expectation that he would still attend even on her wedding date.

My position was then and still is today that once she decided not to invite our father’s wife he would not attend and that any “etiquette person” would tell her that placing him in such a position would likely ensure the outcome that transpired.

Fast forward three years and I receive a call from my sister asking about our cousin’s wedding in the fall. She informed me that our father and his wife were helping to host a shower for his niece. She also informed me that she felt that our cousin would be getting “[her] wedding present.” It was quite clear that she had never gotten past the fallout of her decision to exclude our father’s wife and his decision to not attend.

I explained that I did not want to re-hash this issue with her — that I had told her three years ago there would be consequences for her action and that she had to be prepared to deal with it if she was insistent upon her course. Now, perhaps that may seem tough to you, but these are all things that I discussed ad nauseam prior to her wedding. I see no reason to have to dredge up all the arguments now because our father and his wife are attending and participating in a wedding they both were invited to.

Where my sister is “absolutely wrong” is in her expectation that our father would attend and participate in a wedding that his wife was specifically excluded from. That has always been my position and I highly doubt that any “etiquette person” would tell anyone who excluded a parent’s spouse anything different.

I do not expect nor do I need a response from you. However, I take offense at how you chose to characterize my behavior and actions without first asking to hear from me. Perhaps that is not how your blog works, but I am certain you know that in life there are always two sides to a story and much more than meets the eye.

Yours truly,

[Redacted]

Thanks for reaching out. It’s rare that I hear from someone who is in some way involved in an issue that I advise a LW on, and your letter is a good reminder that the advice we give here affects and reaches more than just the person requesting it, especially when someone’s character and actions are called into question. I can certainly appreciate your desire to clarify your side of the story and to defend yourself. And I hope you realize that, as an advice columnist, I have only one side of the story to go by – I don’t know of any advice columnist who seeks contact information for the major players in every letter and reaches out to them for their side of the story. It simply isn’t done that way. We respond to the letter we receive, read between the lines as much as we can, and use a tone that seems appropriate for the issue and the LW at hand, while maintaining our own voice and brand of advice. That’s what I did with your sister’s letter and it’s what I do for all letters.

Your sister’s main question to me was whether she was wrong in not inviting her father’s wife to her wedding. She explained that her brother (you) argued that any etiquette person would say she was wrong. That’s a different question than what you claim the issue to be. You’re saying: “Once she decided not to invite our father’s wife, he would not attend and any ‘etiquette person’ would tell her that placing him in such a position would likely ensure the outcome that transpired.” You sister asked about an action (not inviting the wife to the wedding) and you are talking about the consequence (the father not coming) and the expectation about the consequence (your sister hoped you father would come anyway, he did not, she was deeply hurt, you were left with the responsibility of tending to her hurt feeling minutes before walking her down the aisle — how difficult for everyone!).

If you read my original response to your sister carefully, even without the benefit of your side of the story, I agree with you: I told her that it wasn’t wise (I prefer “wise” to “right”) to expect her father to come to her wedding after excluding his wife from attending. I wrote: “He had never, in forty years, acted like a father to you, so why would he suddenly start on your wedding day — an occasion that is often so emotionally-loaded as it is, and one in which he wouldn’t have his crutch by his side to help ease any guilt or awkwardness he might (rightfully) feel over posing as the dad he never was?” I’m agreeing with you — your sister had zero reason to expect her father to show up at her wedding after history and common sense gave every indication that he wouldn’t. But, can’t you understand how much she must have wanted to believe that for one day — for one moment in one special day — he might choose her; he might, finally, for once, show up and send the message to her, to you, to his wife and to all the guests at the wedding that his daughter was important — important enough to be there and to walk her down the aisle and to act the part of a loving father and maybe erase a little bit of the hurt for not acting that part and not showing up in all the years and special moments prior?

This isn’t about right and wrong, and I hope both of you can stop pointing fingers and blaming and excusing and defending. This is about the need to feel important and loved and supported, and sometimes, especially when emotions are so raw and the stakes so high, etiquette and common sense and rational, managed expectations can’t be tapped. We’re all only human, after all.

To your sister who, I’m sure, is reading this: You have a brother who loves you (two brothers who love you, I assume). How wonderful! You have husband and friends and other family who show up for you and love you and support you and let you know you’re important. I know that can’t erase the deep hurt you must feel for a lifetime of disappointment and indifference from your father, but it isn’t anything to take for granted. Celebrate it, embrace it, and lean on it when you’re feeling vulnerable. Relying on the love of those who show up for you will bolster you far more than giving any thought to those who don’t.

And to you, the brother: This isn’t the time to play “Who’s right?” or “I told you so.” Your sister’s hurting. Yes, even now three years later. Imagine how deep the wound must have been that it still feels fresh. Be compassionate. You may not feel the need to “re-hash” these old feelings from your sister’s wedding, but they’re her feelings, and, clearly, your cousin’s wedding and news of your father’s contribution to her shower are bringing them to the surface again, so quit being a dick about it and give your sister space to process the feelings. If you can’t do that, rather than argue about how she’s foolish for feeling the way she does and what did she expect anyway, tell her that you can’t be the listener she needs right now but that you hope she knows you love her. Even when words fail us, the simple act of loving someone heals so much.

28 comments… add one
  • avatar

    SpaceySteph June 17, 2016, 8:29 am

    Whoa whoa whoa. I mean I agree with Wendy’s advice, but if we want to talk about wedding etiquette since its so important to this LW then this:

    “I also suggested that his wife could attend as my guest.”

    This is not ok. Nope. Your sister purposely excluded her from the wedding, you can’t just bring her as your plus one. Nope.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy June 17, 2016, 8:39 am

      For brevity (ha!), I had chose not to address that, but yes to what you said. Completely inappropriate and disrespectful!!

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      Nina June 17, 2016, 9:51 am

      I was so annoyed by that, if I was the LW and my brother showed up with someone I didn’t want there I would be angry at him for a while.

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      Vathena June 17, 2016, 10:08 am

      Yeah, the +1 is not a wedding loophole to allow a person to attend who has been specifically excluded (and for good reason in this case). Otherwise, I do agree with the brother that it was unrealistic for the original LW to have expected her father to attend without his wife.

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    • avatar

      Northern Star June 17, 2016, 11:27 am

      Yes. The brother was very lucky his dad turned down the idea of the brother bringing the drunken stepmother to the wedding as his guest. I can’t think of a worse idea, honestly.

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      AndSoItGoes June 17, 2016, 12:16 pm

      It appears that it was a suggestion on the part of the brother to find a middle ground, one he posed to both the father and the sister. He says both parties rejected the suggestion. It doesn’t appear that he had any intention of bringing the wife without the permission of his sister and agreement of his father.

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        Sketchee June 17, 2016, 12:36 pm

        This does seen to be the problem. The brother seems to believe his sister and father’s relationship is his problem to solve. I understand it’s tough when your family doesn’t get along. And I empathize that he wants that.

        Ultimately, trying to fix other people’s problems just creates a new problem. The sister gets to choose who goes to her wedding. The father gets to choose not to go. The brother is best in following Wendy’s advice to concentrate on his own relationship with his sister.

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    Brise June 17, 2016, 9:36 am

    To the brother: I understand your point but your sister’s “action” was not terrible. It was a choice. She had a bad experience with a mother-in-law who abused her and can’t behave when drunk. So she accepted the risk to have neither your dad nor the MIL, rather than having to endure a gross MIL during her great day. It can be understood. The bad “action”, in my opinion, is your dad’s decision to not attend for the sake of his wife’s pride. It is his daughter. This no-show is worse than being a child. It is mean. He exists independently of his wife, and his daughter doesn’t get married everyday. But well: it is typical of an abusive relationship, right? Anyway, your sister made a choice, but it doesn’t mean that she didn’t suffer of your dad’s indifference. It was a lose-lose game for her.
    As for now: she shouldn’t attend the cousin’s wedding.

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  • courtney89

    courtney89 June 17, 2016, 10:07 am

    Glad to get another side of the story too! And 10 to 1, I’m betting the dad probably felt guilty about not being able to watch his only daughter walk down the aisle. He should have been there for his daughter. It would devastate me if my dad was still living and chose not to be a part of my day.

    I agree with just telling your sister you can’t be her listener but you love her. That’ll probably go a long way!

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray June 17, 2016, 11:16 am

    That was fun, getting to see a related party’s perspective. And when I read stuff like this, I always wish Ramona the pant-less wino would chime in. But about this letter and Wendy’s response, I loved Wendy’s response. Perfecto. And one of the best responses I’ve read lately. I’m not sure why; it just resonated with me for some reason. I’m also very tired. Which is making me emotional. I am feeling all the feelings. I feel drunk. Ok, I should stop commenting and get back to work.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster June 17, 2016, 11:24 am

    LW, it’s clear that you love your sister, but you seem to be thinking about this whole thing in a really detached way; you’re looking at the situation as if it’s an equation and you’re not factoring in a very important variable: the massive pain having an absent father has had on your sister emotionally. Maybe that’s YOUR way of dealing with the effects of growing up with a neglectful father, maybe her actually feeling the pain in such a raw and vocal way brings up uncomfortable feelings about your dad that you don’t want to confront. It sounds like while you were 100% willing to love and support your sister on her wedding day, that deep down you resented having to clean up another one of the emotional messes created by your father, which is totally understandable and doesn’t cancel out your loving actions toward your sister on her wedding day. And maybe you see the broken relationship between your dad and sister as the result of your sister’s actions because that’s easier than having to add another tally to the list of shitty things your dad has done.

    While it’s not about right and wrong-as Wendy rightly mentioned-it’s worth exploring why you are choosing this hill to die on. As someone who also has an unreliable parent, I know how important it is to keep the sibling bond strong, supportive, and loving. After all, we can really only rely on each other. At the end of the day, prioritizing the bond between you and your siblings is what will keep you feeling whole and loved the next time your dad fails to be there for one of you.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros June 17, 2016, 11:42 am

    I understand that it’s probably frustrating when you feel that your actions are misconstrued or when your family won’t get along or when they get you involved in their business and won’t listen to your advice. But at that point, I think the appropriate response is to just extricate yourself and let them deal with it (and set whatever boundaries you need). You sound like you’re trying to be helpful, but it also sounds like the frustration has sort of driven you to this tone where you’re feeling (and acting like) everyone but you is stupid. I mean, the tone of your letter sounds so exasperated because no one is following your advice, which makes sense, but at the same time, when you give advice to adults, you have to realize that they might not follow it. It’s not a great look to basically portray to your sister a sense of “i gave you advice many times and you didn’t listen, so I told you so.”

    So, I’m not faulting you for being frustrated, but if my brother talked to me in the same tone as your letter, I probably wouldn’t listen either. For your own sanity and relationships, I think it would be best for you to support family in other ways, but let them have their fight to themselves (and if someone tries to get you involved, it’s OK to politely decline).

    Also, while I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, inviting someone as your plus-one who was purposely not invited because they are verbally abusive is extremely inappropriate. This is the point where it’s hard to sympathize with you and where you start to sound like you’re being a little high and mighty and aren’t all that concerned about your sister’s feelings or experiences.

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  • avatar

    saneinca June 17, 2016, 11:45 am

    Dude, it is not Wendy’s ( who I must ay replied with a lot of kindness) duty to track down every LW’s family to get their take on the problem.

    All the responses were on spot. Your sister did not need the disruptive stepmom at her wedding and if your father wanted to be there, he could have made his wife apologize to his daughter and attended the marriage as a unit.

    Although I agree that your sister need not expect anything better from your father and she need not get upset over his continued indifference again and again.

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  • avatar

    SailBobo June 17, 2016, 11:56 am

    Just a couple of points … First, I think the brother’s offer to have the wife come with him to the wedding was less a way to skirt the non-invite than it was the brother’s offer to take full responsibility for her at the wedding, and make sure she didn’t cause a scene. The sister should have taken him up on that offer …

    Secondly, no, the father should not have come to the wedding without his wife. That is just not done – and I’m sure if it were a father writing and asking, “Should I go to a wedding if my wife isn’t invited?”, the answer would have been, “No, give your regards and send a gift, but don’t you just don’t attend a wedding that excludes your wife.”

    Last of all, I really feel for this brother. It sounds like he did everything he could do to try and avert this train-wreck that he saw was coming, but in the end, the father couldn’t muster up what it took to be a real father, and the sister could not stop herself from setting up a situation where the not-father would be forced to choose her, or his wife (i.e. a recipe for disaster – all this at 40 yrs old no less.) I’m sure the brother is a little tired of hearing, “Oh, woe is me.” … Especially since he has had to also cope with living with this man as a father … (What I really want is for the father to write in, and get his point of view.) …

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    • courtney89

      courtney89 June 17, 2016, 12:16 pm

      “Secondly, no, the father should not have come to the wedding without his wife. That is just not done – and I’m sure if it were a father writing and asking, “Should I go to a wedding if my wife isn’t invited?”, the answer would have been, “No, give your regards and send a gift, but don’t you just don’t attend a wedding that excludes your wife.”

      Not even when the wedding is his own daughters?

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      • courtney89

        courtney89 June 17, 2016, 12:17 pm

        An extended family member sure. But daughters wedding is a whole different ballgame. Just my opinion

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        dinoceros June 17, 2016, 12:29 pm

        I agree. Not to mention, I think the rules change when the person isn’t invited because they are verbally abusive and prone to drunken outbursts.

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        SailBobo June 17, 2016, 12:34 pm

        The man should have never been put in that position -barring threats or physical violence … But, for one unapologetic night of drunken badmouthing? … I’m sure it was years of disappointment that drove her to that nuclear option, but she did have a chance to rise above it … Especially since the brother offered to run cover for her at the wedding …

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        dinoceros June 17, 2016, 12:47 pm

        The LW described that he wasn’t much of a father (which I assume means he wasn’t around much), so it’s not like they had an amazing relationship and she tossed it away. Neither he nor the wife apologized for months. She is an alcoholic, so presumably is not a stranger to outbursts like that. She also got physical with the dad. To me, that situation sounds like it’s more likely than not that she’s going to create a disturbance at the wedding, most likely with yelling, but possibly physically if someone tries to remove her. It’s well within someone’s right to decide not to risk that at their wedding. I think it was silly for her to assume her dad would come, but he also shouldn’t have been surprised that his wife wasn’t welcome.

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      dinoceros June 17, 2016, 12:30 pm

      I wouldn’t say that the sister “should” have taken him up on it, because it’s not what she wanted. If she wrote in because she really wanted her dad’s wife to come, but didn’t know how to handle her, then yes, that would be a good idea. But she didn’t want her to come. I think if someone berates you and is likely to go into a rage at your wedding, it’s perfectly OK to choose for them not to attend. There’s no guarantee the brother could even control her.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph June 17, 2016, 1:39 pm

        Yeah I don’t think the brother could definitely control her, how could he. And idk but if things got out of hand, was his plan to throw her over his shoulder and carry her out? Because that’s not exactly keeping her under control, it’s causing a scene of it’s own.

        Also maybe the original LW didn’t want anyone, including her brother, having to deal with running interference on drunken stepmom the entire night.

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      Sketchee June 17, 2016, 12:42 pm

      Sure, the father could have attended the wedding with his wife by apologizing for his behavior. Having her take responsibility for her behavior. And promise from both parties that no incidents or additional stress would occur. He and the wife could have attended by respecting the daughters boundaries and trying to repair the relationship. Etiquette is ultimately about relationships and healthy connection.

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      • avatar

        SailBobo June 17, 2016, 1:35 pm

        Agreed, Sketchee … The father could of, and should have, taken a higher path … But, you talked about relationships, and relationships have a dynamic – I’m a teacher, and I tell my students, “It takes two people to keep it going, but only one to make it stop.” … I’m not saying she needed to invite the wife, just realize that the father wouldn’t come, and accept that. Another adage, “Life is like a grocery store. can have whatever you want, as long as you can accept the price.”

        The point is, I’m sure the daughter also played into this dynamic. She felt years of neglect, so she when she got together with her father there was probably always a little bit of bitterness (snark?) … The wife probably saw this too. The original writer says that the drunken abuse what about her relationship with her father (i.e. how she treats her father) … The interesting thing about people is that they hate to see themselves as bad people (because the know the reasons for what they do). The wife could have also seen this dynamic, but only saw how the daughter treated the father.

        All this is all here nor there. They both played into the dynamic. My only point is that the brother may have had a different dynamic with the wife, and could have managed her during the wedding. That is not to say the bride has to have her there, she just has to accept the consequences of her decisions, as painful as they may be.

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    Another Jen June 17, 2016, 2:15 pm

    Surprised that nobody’s called out that the whole “rehash” of this 2-year-old fight was sis telling brother that their cousin “would be getting [her] wedding present.” Sounds like sis is holding on to a lot of resentment (totally understandable) and a sense that she missed out on a gift that she feels she is owed (dad was schmucky in not sending one, but gifts aren’t “owed” to anyone).

    So, sis calls brother and tells him that 2 years after her own wedding, her estranged father is taking part in a shower and giving “her” wedding present to their cousin. Brother doesn’t validate the complaint, so sis writes a letter to Wendy implying that brother’s disapproval came out of nowhere after 2 years. Based on the half-info, people agree that sis is right. Sis forwards letter to brother as a 2-year-old I told you so. What are we doing here?

    I agree with the others that brother has tried his best to fix everyone else’s relationships, and should probably step aside for his own sanity. Cool to know the rest of the story, though.

    AJ

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  • FireStar

    Firestar June 17, 2016, 3:16 pm

    There are people in the world very linear. You accept an action, you accept the consequences. Others not so much. To the brother it was clear. If you don’t invite the rude wife of an absentee father, then he won’t come to the wedding. To the bride, she still held onto some irrational, romantic notion that her father would finally be a father – even if it was for just the length of the aisle. I was always a little confused why she would want to include him in that role since he wasn’t a real dad to her – if not just for show. That she has her brother, who clearly loves her and tried his hardest to give her what she wanted, walk her down the aisle seems infinitely better to me. It’s been two years of no contact. The bride needs therapy if she can’t let go of the resentment and what she should have had. I’m not sure it has much to do with a wedding. That’s just one day. She should have had a supportive and loving father her whole life. But she didn’t have that. A lot of us don’t. At some point you have to let go of the anger. You can’t force others to act the way you want..or even deserve. You accept them as they are… Or you don’t. She drew the line in the sand with the wife. Seemed like a good line to me. Abusive people serve no productive purpose. The consequence is the dad choosing the wife over his daughter. Sad. But so be it. She needs to let go of the fantasy she has about her father and accept the reality of him. What he does for her cousin is of no concern. The cousin doesn’t have the same loaded past with him as the daughter. He doesn’t have the same guilt or shame with the cousin. If he even feels those things. Some relationships are easier than others. Honestly, the ones that don’t matter are the easiest, no? I don’t think this was ever about etiquette. This was always about the reality of the situation. Given the players involved, this was how it was always going to play out. I sympathize with the brother. When you can see the reality so clearly, it’s frustrating when others are surprised. But we aren’t all the same. Check your frustration, tell her you are sorry that she’s hurt. Her father just isn’t who she wants him to be. He won’t ever be. But her brother loves her. And her husband. And everyone else who has shown up – not just on her wedding day – but for her whole life. To focus on what’s missing instead of all that is there is fool hardy. It sounds like she has lots to be grateful for. She should be grateful for all of it.

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    • avatar

      TuxBux June 17, 2016, 6:33 pm

      I’ve come out of the lurks to say how much I appreciate your comment. I’ve also had an absentee father and when I was around 21 I decided to remove him from my life, once I realized he would never meet my expectations of a dad. Over the years, several friends and close relatives, including my mom (divorced from my dad) and brother, have questioned my decision because they believe it’s more important to keep trying since he’s family. It’s just nice to hear that someone else thinks that removing yourself from that type of situation is also a legitimate thing to do.

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      Brise June 18, 2016, 4:16 am

      Nice reply, Firestar, I agree with you!

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  • avatar

    Dreamy June 17, 2016, 10:29 pm

    I understand where the LW is coming from. I have always longed for a relationship with my dad, however I didn’t get along with my step-mother. We tried but it seemed no matter what I did I just wasn’t good enough, for example…I gave to short of notices for kids events such as ball games(regardless of it was couple of days of a couple of weeks). As I grew older I wonder if the relationship between my step mother and myself was strained because the feelings I had deep inside about my dad (as a result of being void) were projected on to my step mother! Don’t get me wrong she can be a very judge mental person, but could it be because of the energy that I give off when we are near each other??

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