Dear Bartender and Priestess,
I am a successful, generally happy gay man. In a matter of a few weeks, I am going to marry the man of my dreams. My boyfriend and I have been together, lived together, for 10 years. Eventually we’re going to throw a huge party for all our friends and extended families, but we decided we want to keep our wedding day small. Immediate families, extremely close friends.
Unfortunately, my father has declared that he’s not coming to my wedding. He hasn’t given me a good reason as to why. He was initially…not thrilled…with my announcement when I came out, but I thought he had grown to accept me and my (now) fiancé. He didn’t seem all that bothered by our relationship when we were just living together but now, stubborn man that he is, he has made his decision, dug his heels in and isn’t budging. He won’t come to my wedding. That’s that.
Of course it bothers me, even if I tell people that it doesn’t. It’s difficult not to compare this to my brother’s (straight) wedding, at which my father was happily in attendance. How can I convince him to come? And if I can’t, how can I make peace with his behavior?
Disappointed Future Groom
Dear Future Groom (we are leaving out the “disappointed” part!),
First, let us say, congratulations! We are thrilled that you and your beloved are getting married. May you build a grand and glorious life together!
Now. Your father.
P: I’m so sorry your dad is being … so many possibilities here and who knows what he’s being. And we can’t figure that out. Hopefully we can help you come to terms with what you want without the gloss on it. You don’t need to protect him by “being cool.”
I wish I could say this is the first time I’ve run into this. It’s ‘way too common. And the fact that other people are becoming more accepting doesn’t mean that you hurt any less — in fact it may make it worse.
B: Weddings ought to be a time for joy, but like any life-changing event, they can rustle up a whole host of baggage. Much of said baggage ultimately has nothing to do with the principal actors (in this case, you and your fiancé) and everything to do with the third party throwing their baggage into the mix.
That being said, it sure feels like it’s personal. And, as a side note: PLEASE don’t carry any sort of resentment toward your brother for how your father responded to his straight nuptials. Your brother loves who he loves, too. It’s just that loving a woman isn’t breaking any new ground.
For parents, a wedding brings a finality to their role in your life. You are so not the kid at Little League any more, or the boy who used to read on the front porch swing, or the gangly kid who’s all arms and legs, with that unruly cowlick. With a marriage you are, undeniably, an adult, making your own way and choosing your own life, and parents’ roles, while still important, inevitably go on the decline. You say that your father has come to accept your life with your partner, but was that when his social status was still just sort of…a partner? He may have thought that one day you’d switch back to women, or he may have preferred not thinking about it at all. Shifting your relationship and your fiancé’s status from “partner” to “husband” is a brave new world for the old guard. You’re getting married and A) declaring your love for this person while B) asserting your right to be recognized as an adult, and your father may not be ready to take this step. To fully accept who you are. To acknowledge he has no control over you any longer.
P: So let’s think about this. Can you say first to yourself, exactly what you want from your dad? Because unless you’re clear with yourself, you lower your odds of getting what you want! What you’ve said is that you want him to be there because he was for your brother. With one family we set it up so she could take a series of steps that helped her clarify what she wanted.
- She had to admit to herself that she wanted to be able to talk about her wedding.
- They didn’t need to come, but she needed to let them know that it really hurt that they weren’t coming.
- In the end, she was able to tell them, that they needed to get over whatever it was and that they needed to show up, that she deserved that.
The wonderful thing was they listened and were able later to tell me how glad they were they showed up.
But what really mattered was her taking the slow steps through her own pain about what was going on to get clear what she wanted. Your dad may say no. But you will have said what was important and asked for what you want. So what do you want? Get clear. Write it down.
B: Having your father by your side on your wedding day would be nice. It would be wonderful, even. We grow up wanting our parents’ approval and I don’t know if that ever really changes. Theoretically, your father should want what’s best for you, and as an adult you’ve decided that what’s best for you is embodied in the man you’ve shared your life with for a decade. Theoretically, since you are now an adult and a peer, and someone he loves, your father should want your approval too.
P: If your dad isn’t someone who you can talk to about this, or if you can’t talk about this without his being defensive or your being too vulnerable, consider a letter. You don’t want to accuse, you just want to say what you want. “You’re my dad, this is what I want from you.” You might also want to say, “This is my wedding, and it really hurts that you don’t care enough about me, my partner and our happiness to show up.” Be direct. Don’t leave a lot of room for waffling or attacks. Don’t be accusatory. Say what is true.
B: But bear in mind, there’s only so much you can do with a stubborn old man who’s set in his ways, and—here’s the hard lesson—you can’t change him. I’ve said this before, but the only behavior you are capable of controlling is your own. So let me ask you—what do you want to do? How do you want to feel? It’s your wedding day! Do you want to feel happy? Or do you want to feel resentful? Will your father’s decision to not show up affect whether or not you and your fiancé will marry? Of course not! So take the time to rejoice in your love for each other.
As for the sting I know you feel, the disappointment, the rejection…be bigger than it. I know, it’s easier said than done, but I think the healthiest way to move past that sort of pain is to turn it around. Anger won’t help. Sadness won’t help. Both of those reactions allow your bad feelings to remain internal. Those feeling emanate from the question, what’s wrong with me that he did X? You’re still granting your father some right to dictate how you feel. And there’s nothing wrong with you; you’re simply marrying the man that you love.
Again, I KNOW THIS IS DIFFICULT, but your position of strength in all this is compassion for his passive-aggressive behavior, and forgiveness. Forgiveness takes your negative emotions and makes them external, and so much easier to let go. Have compassion for his inability to move forward with the times. Have compassion for whatever negative emotions he might be feeling. Have compassion for whatever planted those seeds in his soul that brought him to this. Forgive him for causing you pain. Forgive him for not being open to your happiness. Forgive him for shuttering himself into his world, at the expense of the people around him. Your happiness with your future husband is not dependent on your father, so forgive your father for his empty, passive-aggressive petulance. Forgive him for not being the parent you want.
P: And then decide what you want to say to people. If you’ve got a lot of feelings, you’re better finding a friend to process this with or a therapist. You don’t need to tell anyone whether or not your dad is coming. You don’t need to tell them how you feel about it, unless they’re beloved friends. Tell your friends about how excited you are about the wedding, marrying your partner. Tell them what a great cake you’re having. Tell them how fabulous your Priestess is and that your Bartender is hi-larious and oh, so skilled. (Oh, right, we’re not doing your wedding. Sorry.)
Because now that it’s just a handful of weeks away, you want to get clear of this and focus on your wedding. Don’t give your dad your wedding day. Because you’re marrying your beloved of ten years! He deserves your wedding to be about him and your commitment. You deserve your wedding to be about him and your commitment. You deserve your wedding to be about you and him.
B: The fact is, we don’t have the families that we want. We have the families that we have, and our recognition of what constitutes a familial landscape is changing. Norman Rockwell is going to have to modernize his Thanksgiving Day family painting. Families are different now, which is neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s just different. But for a lot of people, change is difficult and unwelcome. Don’t let the rut-dwellers impact your happiness. Now, get out there and marry that guy! And take our best wishes for a wonderful, long, strong, healthy, love-filled life.
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The Bartender and the Priestess!