When you are making plans to get married, the one piece of advice everyone gives you is, “Don’t have your heart set on just so because something will inevitably happen and you need to just go with it.”
Oh, if they only knew how hard it would be for me to just “go with it.”
When Stephen and I got engaged, we were very clear to family and friends who were in the wedding party that we would pick and choose and alter and throw out tradition. We wanted this to be our wedding. Not some stock walk down the aisle, I do, Kiss, ta-da! We wanted every part of it to be special to us and to be meaningful to us. This was our moment and no one else’s. Everyone nodded and smiled and said they understood.
For the most part, nothing was crazy and out of kilter. Most everything that we did was traditional….ish. We did shun the typical black tux in favor of chocolate ones (which Stephen looked super hot in, by the way). We didn’t do a parents’ dance. We didn’t announce the whole bridal party at the reception. We had a classical guitarist at our ceremony (which was amazing and I highly recommend it).
Ugh, and the tears have already started.
Back up. You guys need a bit of history.
Cliffs notes, I promise.
As with many kids my generation, my parents were divorced when I was young. Same with Stephen. Most of our parents were remarried within a few years to “better” partners. Those of you who come from broken homes with stepparents may know what I mean there. Both Stephen and I proceeded to grow up with fathers that weren’t really around for one reason or another (mine lived in another state) and stepfathers who were and who assumed the role of “dad” without so much as a backwards glance.
Sure, my stepmom was cool. She liked to shop, liked football, liked to drink. We talked about boys and makeup and hair. All the things a stepmom and a daughter do. We saw dad for a month during the summer and every other major holiday. We talked on the phone every so often – birthdays, first place in the science fair, etc. And that was life. I had two dads and two moms and that was that.
I’ve spoken before about what happened between my mom and I when I was in college so there’s no need to rehash that here. However, after that happened, my relationship with my dad changed. For a while, he was my only parent and he and I grew closer in an adult kid with her dad sort of way. No more advice about boys or clothes or cheerleading. It was about cars and the right cell phone company and jobs and apartments. It was a bout grown up stuff because I was now a grown up.
I keep tabbing out to check Twitter or my RSS.
I have to get this out.
About a month or so before the wedding, I sent an email to my dad and my stepdad and, after a LOT of explanation as to why and what it meant to me, I asked them both to walk me down the aisle. This wasn’t something that I just woke up that morning and decided on a whim. I’d been thinking about it for a long time. Hemming and hawing over it. I talked it over with Stephen at length. I hemmed over it more. I went back and forth and around in circles and kept coming back to what made my heart happy. And the thought of my dad and my stepdad walking me down the aisle just made my heart hum with joy. These are the two men that raised me. They both contributed to my life in amazing ways and shaped me into who I am today. I don’t believe (and never have) that genetics is what makes you a parent in the real sense. Legally, technically, scientifically?
In your heart, your soul, your memories? It’s so much more. It’s words and actions and intentions and follow-through. It’s teaching me how to ride a silly pink banana-seat bike with tassels on the handles that I braided or tutoring me in eighth grade math when I was skipped a year for being so incredibly brilliant or teaching me to use your rickety old camera so I can photograph pea seeds for my science project or taking me to buy my first car. Those moments make a parent in my mind. Yes, DNA is a large part of it but that’s not all of it. And the other. The memories. The actions. The intentions. The follow-through. I had two men in my life who fit those molds in one way or another and it made perfect sense.
I knew, knew that my dad would pitch a fit. Probably why I hesitated so long in asking. I knew it would be an argument of some sort. But I figured that, after the argument, he would (albeit grudgingly probably) agree because it was my wedding and, hey, I’m not planning on doing this again.
I was wrong.
I was so wrong.
Wrong in thinking that I would be able to convince him.
Looking back, as my brother told me once, I should have called them and talked to them personally. I chose email because a) I could talk to them both at once and b) I wanted to get it all out without any interruption and c) I just didn’t want to fight. I always choose writing when there’s something important to talk about. Drives Stephen batty. He’s more likely to get a six paragraph email from me when I’m pissed off and then the silent treatment when he comes home.
I knew he would get mad. I knew it. But…I didn’t anticipate the venom. The lashing out.
“Unfortunately, under the circumstances you describe below, I must decline your invitation to participate in your wedding in the manner you’ve suggested.”
He should have been a lawyer…
The first email goes on and uses the “I’m your only true father” argument. Genetically, yes. For the reasons I mentioned above, no. I’m sorry, but, no. He also pulled up pretty much everything my mom ever did wrong. Yeah, she wasn’t a perfect mother. But he wasn’t a perfect father. And I wasn’t a perfect daughter. We all fucked up. Move past it.
Look, if you want to express your thanks and affection to [your stepdad] for being a wonderful person in your life (all six great years of it), buy him a nice gift. Or, have the caterer bake a “step-parents” cake if you want, whatever. But honestly, do you really feel that the only appropriate thing you can think of to give him is to break your father’s heart?
And a rather large reaction of “I’m sorry, what?”
So I emailed back rather angrily. Yeah, should have called at this point but I was mad and crying and I didn’t want to just call and cry on the phone. I don’t know. Maybe I would have been able to fix it and make him understand if I’d called.
I begged him to come and be apart of the ceremony. I explained how important it was to me. I told him to stop dragging up the past and that it was getting old. I asked him to not make a decision that would irrevocably damage our relationship.
He did anyway.
After telling me that he wouldn’t be at the wedding and that I’d insulted him beyond all imagination, he launched into a very long focused piece about money and accused mom and my stepdad of “buying my loyalty.” He called my stepdad my “thirty pieces of silver dad.”
He called me ugly.
He called me selfish.
As for me missing any “irreplaceable memories”, call me a little jaded and cynical from my own journey in life, and sorry to be such a buzz kill here, but in time, you’ll come to realize that the “magical” day you got married, the one you’ve so romanticized in your imagination as a day above all days, while it may be a great day in your life (assuming all goes well and you don’t one day come to regret it, or like your mother and I who have gone on to enjoy better days to replace it), it isn’t necessarily the most important day you’ll ever live, it could be, but it’s not a given. In your situation, it’s a celebration of what already exists – your multiple-year relationship with Stephen. Face it, you’re no 22-year old maiden just out of college physically moving out of her daddy’s house for the first time to begin a new household. That fairytale ship sailed a long time ago. You’re going back to the same household after your honeymoon is over that you leave the day before your wedding. So in reality, the whole “giving the bride away” symbolism of your wedding really isn’t even applicable. When all is said and done, you’re just celebrating a change in your legal status. Just realize that it could happen again someday, perhaps more than once. Trust me on that. Or ask you mom or any of your grandparents that are still alive if you don’t believe me – except don’t ask [your stepmom's] parents, they’re kind of the exception that proves the rule and have actually remained together long-term.
He signed the email with his first name and told me that I was to never call him “Dad” ever again. That my brother was only allowed to have that honor.
I remember forwarding the email to my mom and to Stephen and then just curling up in bed crying my eyes out. This was not at all what I wanted. This was not at all the way it was supposed to be.
Stephen spared me any further conversation by writing to my dad a very short, to the point email that basically said if my dad was going to continue to hold fast to his anger and pride, then he was going to lose a lot more than just a few wedding memories. And, if he was also going to keep along the same vein, then he was to direct any further communication to Stephen because “She is under my care and I will not have you hurting her.”
The only response we got was from my stepmom. She instructed us to delete all their contact info. She forbade us from having any further contact with them ever again. She said she would make sure of it for as long as she lived.
That was a year and a half ago.
We haven’t spoken since.
And I think about him every. single. day.
My brother called me after it happened in a valiant effort to try to fix the situation. He told me, “You know what one of the happiest memories from my wedding was? Seeing mom and dad at the same table being polite, even nice, to each other. Call him, Tristina, and do whatever you need to do to get him to come because I want that memory for you. Lie to him and tell him you were wrong and you’re sorry if that’s what it takes.”
I almost did.
I’d done it before.
With both parents.
And the thought made me sick.
And I cried more. And my brother cried. And he told me he loved me. And he told me he’d support whatever decision I made. I have no idea if he talked to Dad at all.
My stepdad walked me down the aisle by himself. It was still a tremendously happy moment and it’s a wonderful, beautiful memory that I have and will cherish forever. And my dad missed it. Despite what he thinks or what happened to his parents and to him and to his sister and to my mom and her parents and her siblings and Stephen’s parents, we only plan on doing this once. Stephen and I both come from broken homes. We know what that does to a kid. We know about the hurt and confusion and loss and stupid crap that happens in the interim. We also know about loving step-parents that can come into the picture and add more to our lives.
I have a daughter now. I don’t even know if my dad knows about her. I’m assuming my brother told them. She’s beautiful and she’s perfect and, despite his accusations to the contrary, she will know about her grandfather. Whether or not she ever meets him is up to him.
I watch Stephen and Olivia play and sometimes have to swallow a lump in my throat because I want for her what I never had – a dad who is there all the time. A family that stays together. I don’t ever want to put her through that pain. And I know that, in order to do that, Stephen and I have to stay true to each other. We have to stay open and honest and selfless and selfish (to a point). For us. For our children. We have to make. this. work.
And we do. And it’s wonderful.
I can’t undo what happened. And I won’t ever lie and say I was wrong in asking for that. The only things I would ever apologize for would be my method of asking and my angry email as a response. My brother was right – I should have just picked up the phone and called.
But I was scared.
I still hope in my heart that, one day, my dad’s anger towards me will subside and his pride will take a breather and he’ll want to have me in his life again. If not for me, then for his granddaughter.
I never stopped loving him. Even through the anger and the hurt, which is still so fresh and so painful. I love him.
And I miss him. Oh, you guys, I miss him.
But the ball is in his court – it always has been.
I don’t know why I wrote this. Maybe to get it out of my soul. Maybe in the hopes he’d read it and call me. Maybe just to write. Like I do.
I guess, if someone does show this to him and he makes it this far…
You have a granddaughter. Her name is Olivia. She’s almost five months old and she’s the most beautiful baby girl in the whole world.