Should I invite my estranged father to our wedding?
June 10, 2011 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Should I invite my estranged father to our wedding?

First, I know this is a "do whatever you're comfortable with situation," but I need to tease out the underlying implications of inviting vs. not inviting my father to my wedding.

Background: my biological father divorced my mother when I was an infant after conducting an affair with and impregnating one of his nurses. I saw him once when I was 7 and twice again when I was 22. His children, my half-siblings, have each contacted me variously over the past two decades, mainly when we were all teens, though I haven't spoken to either half-sibling since I was about 24. They both seem like very nice people, but I hardly know them. From what they tell me, our father is an emotionally distant man who has created much of the disappointment in his life. His kids are unhappy young adults who struggle with drug addiction and poor life decisions, and his wife is equally unhappy but scared of leaving him.

With all that said, I still feel an irrational pull towards my father. We're similar in a lot of ways, but I've managed to overcome a lot of my personality problems that pull him under. We're both interested in similar fields (literature, traveling, far left-wing politics) and feel disconnected from our immediate family. I realize this is partly a fantasy-based connection: I was a kid who didn't fit in with my non-academic family so I imagined a father who understood me. Weirdly, the personality traits we share were also the ones that made it so hard for me to relate to the rest of my immediate family. But even though we relate to each other intellectually, it doesn't change the fact that he opted out of my life completely and irrevocably. And even though I don't really relate to my immediate family whatsoever (they're conservative, anti-intellectuals who thought my book-learnin was cute but silly), they were the ones who stuck by me, raised me, loved me.

I'm getting married in several months and the question of my father's presence at the wedding has been irritating me. If I invited him, it would greatly distress my mother who hasn't seen him since I was an infant and refuses to speak to him. My fiancé is equally baffled over why I'd ever invite him, but he recognizes this is my decision alone. He wouldn't walk me down the aisle or anything but he would BE there. The wedding is fairly small and intimate so anyone who dislikes him (my mom, my relatives, my fiancé) would probably still have to say hello and shake hands at the very least.

My father never made an effort to see me, and I realize I can choose to not make an effort to see him and it would be okay. But part of me wants to be the bigger adult and let him into my life when he was too lazy and scared of my anger to let me into his. Part of me wants to bury the pain of that abandonment for good and move on, to create a better family with my future husband than what my dad allotted for me.

I realize this wedding doesn't have to be the ultimate determination of my relationship with my father, but either decision carries a deep emotional impact. I know it's my decision alone, but if you were in a similar situation, what did you? Did you regret your choice?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For myself, I would choose not to deliberately hurt the family that have raised me. He has chosen to have no contact with you and have not earned a place in your wedding or life. This does sound like you are harbouring fantasies of who you *think* he is rather than the reality of the person he has shown himself to be through his actions.
posted by saucysault at 8:25 AM on June 10, 2011 [14 favorites]

I wouldn't do anything to make your wedding day any more stressful than it's already going to be. Weddings are enough trouble without throwing in the wild card of an estranged relative that most of the people you love don't want to be around.

You can let your dad back into your life without inviting him to your wedding.
posted by something something at 8:26 AM on June 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

You have no relationship with this man, and he would make your loved ones uncomfortable. To me, not inviting him is a no-brainer. The problem is, as I see it, making yourself comfortable with not having him there. That problem will largely disappear in the face of everyone having the good time they wouldn't were he there.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:28 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

why do you want to add this (most likely negative) energy to your wedding? all that stuff about bringing him into your life, being a bigger person, etc.---do it after the wedding.
posted by elle.jeezy at 8:28 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

You can let your dad back into your life without inviting him to your wedding.

This was absolutely my thought.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:29 AM on June 10, 2011 [11 favorites]

Send him a copy of the video and ask him to get together.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:29 AM on June 10, 2011

Send him an announcement post-event with a few pictures or a photobook made online.
posted by spec80 at 8:31 AM on June 10, 2011

Has he expressed an interest in attending your wedding? I would personally be afraid of opening up a huge can of emotional worms if the guy who rejected having a relationship with me 20 years ago further rejects me by not coming to another important life event.

You can let your dad back into your life without inviting him to your wedding.

Ditto ditto ditto.
posted by muddgirl at 8:31 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

From observing my own f-d up family, I think it is perfectly normal for weddings to trigger desire to reconcile through grand symbolic gestures. These are almost always doomed to failure, because reconciling takes slow, patient small steps, not big gestures. So celebrate the happy, real family you have now at your wedding, and work on the rest later.
posted by yarly at 8:33 AM on June 10, 2011 [18 favorites]

Don't invite him to the wedding, it's a family affair and he's not part of your family. Perhaps you could write to him, let him know that you are getting married and that you would like him to meet your husband sometime in the future. Surely he would not expect you to invite him to the wedding!
posted by mareli at 8:33 AM on June 10, 2011

Another vote for no.

You are going to be running around, dealing with last minute details (like where the hell are my shoes???), dealing with the sudden weird influx of people from completely different chapters of your life (huh, my high school friend is talking to my aunt), dealing with the fact that you are about to get MARRIED.

It's chaos and an absolute fucking hoot and I had the best time ever. But it is chaos, and adding your father into the mix is going to stress you out, particularly given your mother's attitude.

Ask yourself: what he's not there? Would I regret it for the rest of my life? (Handy exercise: imagine inviting him and then his flights getting screwed up, so that he doesn't make it. Would you feel deep disappointment, or breath a sigh of relief? I suspect the latter.)
posted by kestrel251 at 8:38 AM on June 10, 2011

Maybe you could contact him before the wedding.

If he is still emotionally distant he might not want to reconcile, on the other hand people change as they get older and maybe he would welcome an opportunity to do so.

Contact him, let him know you are getting married. If that goes well invite him to dinner to meet the fiancé. If that goes well then maybe wedding.
posted by Bonzai at 8:41 AM on June 10, 2011

Similar situation in my family. My sister and I had only just reconnected with our father after 30 odd years of estrangement and we both chose not to have him at our respective weddings. I don't think either of us have regretted our decisions for a second or even give it any thought only a few years later. As others have said, you can in all good conscience build a relationship with your father without adding to the drama of an already potentially tricky day.

Good luck with everything.
posted by merocet at 8:41 AM on June 10, 2011

Please don't do this to your mother. She did a presumably champion job of raising you, and she deserves to enjoy this day, which is in fact one of the milestones of that raising you process. She earned this moment. Your father did not.

Also, I have to tell you that this is likely to not end up how you imagine it will; you assume that if you invite your father, he will come, but he is more likely to reject you again, at yet another pivotal and vulnerable point in your life. And if he does come, your mother may spend your reception crying in the bathroom, which is exactly what my MIL did when faced with her ex-husband and his 2nd wife at our wedding.

FWIW weddings fuck with your sense of identity, and it's normal you'd be considering your relationship with your father now, especially if you see a lot of yourself in him. I have the same connection with my largely absent, extremely problamatic father and the same issues came up for me. He still wasn't invited. That was absolutely the right choice.

Suggested reading.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:42 AM on June 10, 2011 [18 favorites]

Are you inviting him to the wedding instead of another lower-stakes event as a kind of test for him?

I have a somewhat similar father issue. It's easy to set up situations where you'll be rejected again, or where you think "there's no way he can reject me this time!"

It's not healthy for you to put so much emotional load on one event or decision, even if it feels "right". Listen to the people around you who love you.

(On another note, I have my dad's personality and I, too, clash with the family who raised me in similar ways. I resemble my father in many ways despite the fact that he didn't raise me. Don't discount your feeling of connection to him as "fantasy".)
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:47 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your dad sounds a lot like my dad and I think you should pick a less high stress time to reconnect with your father.

You don't say how long its been since you've seen your dad but I truly think it would be better to see him at least a few times before the wedding. By inviting him to the wedding you'll be compounding the emotional nature of the day with a another hugely emotional event.

You risk being hugely disappointed. He might not come. He may come and be cold towards you. He may come and be really nice, charming and supportive and this may make you feel worse because you'll feel you've lost out on something. He might come and you might find his presence irritating - he'll be another person to juggle talking to taking you away from the main event. And then there is the whole can of worms relating to how he treated your mom (who even if you're not super alike didn't abandon you).

I don't think any scenario is possible where the wedding is anything but a super risky time to reconnect. Not inviting him is NOT a referendum on the future of your relationship it would only be a practical choice to avoid emotional upset.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:57 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

[Sorry for the novel, but I have direct experience and I hope some of it will prove useful. Feel free to MeMail if you want to talk more.]

For me personally, "If I invited him, it would greatly distress my mother who hasn't seen him since I was an infant and refuses to speak to him" would be the deciding factor, hands down. A wedding is your day but it also belongs to your family, and it would be a real shame to "choose" your father's happiness over your mother's (for that is surely how she would see it).

Regarding the regret...

I was in your exact situation, regarding "small intimate wedding and estranged father: what to do?"

The differences (in case it matters): I didn't have the mother in attendance to be upset, although there was a stepmother issue to complicate things. My fiancé hadn't met my father to that point, and I didn't want to add that layer of stress onto him on our wedding day. Also, I know my fiancé would have had an additional layer of worry about managing my emotions, that day.

I talked it over at length with my sibling and extended family, the ones who do have a relationship with my father. They all were in 100% support of my decision, whatever it ended up being.

I talked it over at length with my therapist, who helpfully pointed out exactly what yarly just said: that weddings are about symbols and ceremonies and we feel an innate need to imagine that these big events are the right time to right wrongs and reset history. (Apparently, people feel the same urge also at the approach of high school reunions, graduations, and even funerals) And sadly, those cinematic watercolor moments of reconciliation or comeuppance never do happen in real life, not like the movie we envision in our minds. The outcomes are usually quite poor.

In the end, I decided that I would only be inviting my father based on the slim chance that 1. we would reconcile 2. and then develop a healthy relationship, which would lead to 3. at some point in the future I would have deep regrets over "preventing" him from missing my big day. That's a whole lotta outlier if-this-then-that.

But in reality, it was his many small daily choices over two decades that prevented him from being invited. It wasn't my sole responsibility to bury the hatchet on a day where I had one million other things to be thinking about and worrying over.

What I ended up doing: I asked my extended family to share news of my engagement with my father, a full year before the actual wedding. I decided that, if upon hearing the news, he took the initiative to contact me in some way, then it meant that he wanted to be present at the wedding and also invest a bit of time in our reconciling enough to get invited, and I would be the bigger person and open the door to re-establishing a relationship.

Instead, he never contacted me, in any form. I took that as a message: he either didn't care to attend my wedding at all, or didn't care all that much. When the invitations went out eight months later, he wasn't on the list.

My father did convey to other family (on the day before my wedding) that he was upset to not have been invited. I took that gesture, added it to the notable lack of any other gestures or overtures throughout my engagement, and realized that I had made the right decision. I didn't miss his presence that day, and I have never once regretted my choice. We have reconnected since, if coolly, via the life events of other family members, and those instances too have only served to reaffirm my decision.

We still haven't really reconciled. We might one day—and if we do, I'll show him the photographs and the wedding video. But I won't lie and say, "I'm sorry you weren't there for my wedding"—when what I would really mean is, "I'm sorry that you were a crappy parent and we had a crappy relationship and that resulting in you missing my wedding."

Don't accept all the responsibility for whether your father misses your wedding day. He owns 99% of that. He needs to deal with the outcomes of his behavior and choices, and missing big moments like this is one of the unfortunate results of a life lived selfishly. Do what will make you, your fiancé, and your families the most comfortable. I suspect that, in doing by right by the people who did right by you all along, you will never have regrets, no matter what the future holds.
posted by pineapple at 9:01 AM on June 10, 2011 [39 favorites]

What I ended up doing: I asked my extended family to share news of my engagement with my father, a full year before the actual wedding. I decided that, if upon hearing the news, he took the initiative to contact me in some way, then it meant that he wanted to be present at the wedding and also invest a bit of time in our reconciling enough to get invited, and I would be the bigger person and open the door to re-establishing a relationship.

I think that is fabulous advice from pineapple.

But my own experience includes my now brother-in-law. The black sheep of my husband's family. Too many get-rich-quick schemes with too little follow through and too much alcohol. He was still invited anyways. And he attended, got drunk, made a bit of a spectacle of himself, finally left (on his own volition) after he dropped and broke a glass on the floor.

He did not ruin the day. There were so many other happier memories of the day, to be honest. Other family members completely behaved themselves regarding him. Five years later, he still doesn't know my name. A recent drunken message on the phone to "[Joe Bob] and, uhhhh, [Joe Bob]'s wife" makes us mostly roll our eyes.

But he isn't my husband's father. So I imagine the significance of the relationship is very much different. I think if you follow pineapple's suggestion, you will get your answer.

Good luck to you and congratulations!
posted by jillithd at 9:17 AM on June 10, 2011

From observing my own f-d up family, I think it is perfectly normal for weddings to trigger desire to reconcile through grand symbolic gestures. These are almost always doomed to failure, because reconciling takes slow, patient small steps, not big gestures.


Your wedding is a time for you to make a commitment to your fiance, and for the people important to you and your fiance to celebrate that commitment. Your father is not an important person in your life — or rather, his importance is marked by his absence, rather than his involvement, in your life.

For what it's worth, I asked a perhaps somewhat similar question about my own wedding. I ended up inviting my father; he left before the reception; I still don't know how to feel about it, or about him.

In your case, it doesn't seem like he's done a lot to be in your life, so I don't think that failing to invite him will foreclose the possibility of reconciliation, if that's what you want. (Either foreclosure or reconciliation). You've said he's emotionally distant. He almost certainly knows he's not a big part of your life. It will cause drama and pain for the people who are important to you. I wouldn't invite him, but I might make some sort of attempt to contact him after the wedding.

Or on preview: what Pineapple and jillithd said might be a better way to go.
posted by gauche at 9:23 AM on June 10, 2011

Yes to much of what pineapple said (except that my father explicitly expected to be invited and we moved our wedding up months earlier that he expected without his knowledge and without him being invited). Though I had more contact with my father growing up, my decision eventually boiled down to this:

If I invited him, it would greatly distress my mother.

As I started picturing my wedding day in more detail, I realized that with him there, I'd be constantly monitoring the situation around him and not really being in the moment with my new husband for that big day. I'd be wondering who he was standing by, who he was talking to, how my mother was feeling, and who was protecting her from from interacting with him. I would have done my new husband a disservice by being focused on my father rather than on the start of this new part of our lives together.

Our situation is similar in the academic/non-academic split, too. But, damn. My mom did a hell of a job raising me and my brother. She worked her ass off to make sure we had a shot at doing things we wanted to do with our lives, often to her own detriment. As much as it was my big day, it was my mom's big day, too--a day she could brag about, tell her friends about, and share pictures of for years to come. She never tried to live her life through me (we're too different), but she takes great pleasure in sharing my moments with her friends. If I invited my father, that would have changed all that. The whole day would have been tainted for her, and all the stories we share about my wedding would have included something about him.

As it turned out, everyone had a fabulous time at our wedding. It was a tiny wedding. We had great weather, great food, and a lot of laughter. Though she never said anything about it, my mom was so, so relieved that he wasn't there. She had a great day and great memories that are all positive. All of our stories about the wedding are about good times with good people (and a few funny mishaps that are bound to happen at every wedding). I was focused on my husband and on having those few people around us who really loved and supported us, most for many, many years before. We had no one there that we didn't deeply care about, and that made the ceremony and the day really special.

Since our wedding was so small, our criteria was basically, "Who are the 20 people we love the most and who love us the most and who have been there for us in the past and who will be there for us no matter what in the future?" He didn't fit that criteria and was therefore not on that list. Not inviting him was one of the best decisions I made about our wedding since it let everyone else relax and have a really good time.

All in all, I have zero regrets about not inviting him. Zero.
posted by BlooPen at 9:26 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

You will probably have very little time to actually see or talk to your father in the days surrounding the wedding. You'll have a lot to do, and everyone will be clamoring for your attention. The rest of your family will probably be seeing him a lot more - they'll be physically closer to him during the ceremony, and he'll probably need someone to chat with at the reception while you're talking to other people. Whose table would you put him at?

It's not likely to go well. Consider waiting until a month after your wedding, and then see if you still want to reconnect with your father.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:31 AM on June 10, 2011

Firstly congratulations for your upcoming wedding!

My father divorced my mother when I was seven and even though they are friends, I do not talk to him at all. He is disliked by many members of my mum's family, so when I got married recently, it seemed crazy to even consider it even though I had the same irrational pull towards him that you describe.

You seem to have some unfinished business to deal with when it comes to your relationship with your father. If you decide to invite him, make sure you have a conversation with him beforehand and get anything that may be stuck in your throat and make your final decision based on that. Talk to your mother and see how she feels about that too. It's your wedding but also a family gathering and you want people to have fun on one of the most important days of your life, right? Will they be OK with having him around?

If you don't talk to the relevant people first and decide to just go ahead and invite him, you may not even enjoy your big day fully, because you will hanging out with someone you are still so disappointed with or worried he may get into an argument with your mum/your family etc etc etc
posted by heartofglass at 9:34 AM on June 10, 2011

Absolutely not. A wedding is a time to be surrounded by happiness, not to try to work through long-standing family issues. Plus, you'll ruin the day for your mother. He made his choices and hasn't earned a place at your wedding just by virtue of contributing to your DNA.
posted by Dasein at 9:51 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you need a positive angle on why not to invite him, consider this: By not asking him, you are sparing him an entire day with people who actively dislike him.
posted by Ys at 9:54 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It is very courageous and decent of you to even entertain the idea of wanting to invite your biological father. It's obvious that your instincts are pushing you to get closer to your natural father and create some sort of a relationship with him. This to me seems totally normal. That being said, you have many years to cultivate a relationship with him and you can do it under much less stressful situations then your wedding. While I understand that you see inviting him to the wedding as a huge gesture to signify your need and want for a relationship with him, I truly believe that having him there will lead to a lot more stress and discomfort if not for you then for the others at the wedding who have stood by you your whole life and who will at a minimum feel very awkward around your biological father. I got married about 6 months ago and the wedding was stressful enough dealing with in laws, brother/sister in laws and friends. You can keep your father in the loop with emails, letters, pictures, maybe even a phone call. But there is no need to have him at the wedding. After the wedding you can make the effort to move forward with your relationship with him. Hope this helps.
posted by ljs30 at 10:01 AM on June 10, 2011

Sometime in the first year after your wedding, arrange to meet with him to introduce your husband. Consider it a part of a wedding tour.

A formal introduction to your husband is a ritual acknowledgement of his location as your father-it carries some traditional weight without upsetting your actual wedding day or presuming a closer relationship than you have. Plus---he might not come--leaving you with a whole different extra set of feelings on your wedding day!
posted by vitabellosi at 11:36 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have not dealt with an estranged parent issue at a wedding, but when I married my ex, it was the first meeting between his mother and his (new) stepmother. His parents had divorced, in part because of his father's infidelities, while we were dating and his father had gotten involved with a new woman while the divorce was pending. FiL and StepMiL married during our engagement.

Everybody was civil, but it took constant monitoring to make sure everything was OK. Based on my experience, I wouldn't compound the stress of the wedding with the stress of dealing with your father and making your mother unhappy, especially not in an intimate wedding where not only is everything that happens going to be in your mom's face, but also in your own.
posted by immlass at 12:13 PM on June 10, 2011

I had a similar situation with my wedding. Mine had to do with grandparents who were divorced and lots of hard feelings within my extended family.

I had the whole "if you invite ___ then ___ and ___ will be offended and might not come."

In my situation I decided to invite everyone and let them weed themselves out. If they couldn't come celebrate my marriage and leave the drama at the door then I probably didn't need them there anyway. I did a receiving line that only consisted of my husband and I to further avoid drama.

Your situation is different of course. First of all, do you realize that just because you invite your bio-dad it doesn't mean he's going to come. He's opted out of the rest of your life, I wouldn't count on him being there when you want/need him. Your invitation may just fall on deaf ears.

Second, what is the size of your wedding? Is it an intimate affair where guests won't be able to help running into each other? My reception was huge and it was easy for people who wanted to avoid others to just find a table at the other side of the hall. Will you have a receiving line? Will your mom stand next to you and be forced to confront her ex? If so, that seems kind of mean to your mom.

I think I side with the above posters who say that you should send him an announcement after the wedding, possibly with a letter stating that you'd love to introduce him to his son-in-law. Use that as the opportunity to start the relationship.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:18 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your wedding is about you and your SO. The feelings of other people there are irrelevant -- they can choose to be there for you or not based upon your wishes.

With all that said, I still feel an irrational pull towards my father. We're similar in a lot of ways, but I've managed to overcome a lot of my personality problems that pull him under.

Kinda sounds like how I feel towards my father, but in my case, he's just an ass who doesn't deserve to be part of my life. Should I choose to get married, he'd only hear about it second hand.

Still, when my sister got married, she wanted both my mother and father at her wedding. They absolutely hate each other, but both came and just ignored each other (as you'd expect under the circumstances). It was fine. Any decent mother would absolutely understand why a person would want her father at her wedding.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2011

Please don't do this to your mother. She did a presumably champion job of raising you, and she deserves to enjoy this day, which is in fact one of the milestones of that raising you process. She earned this moment. Your father did not.

This would trump all, for me.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:51 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

This guy isn't your father and does not deserve to be present at your joyous, personal, intimate event.
posted by tetralix at 4:47 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

His being there would hurt your mother, the one who actually cared for you. I'd leave him out of it altogether. Send him a postcard if you must. He did this to himself and it is not your fault.
posted by Renoroc at 8:01 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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