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.
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.