Dads, stepdads and hurt feelings - Macleans.ca

Dads, stepdads and hurt feelings

What should a bride do when she’s got two fathers in her life?

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Modern brides have plenty to concern themselves with. Not the least of which is how to tactfully manage the tender feelings of father and stepfather when it comes to who walks them down the aisle. “Think about it,” says wedding planner Patti Wallington of Occasions on Niagara. “Easily, 50 per cent of the marriages we see involve a stepdad.”

Generally, she says, “it’s the biological father who gets his nose out of joint. If the bride has a stepfather and he’s helped raise her, then he plays an important role in the wedding.” On the other hand, “the birth father could be just as active. So there is that conflict. Lots of times the birth father is upset that the stepfather is so involved. He thinks, ‘She’s my daughter and you’re just the stepfather. You just married my ex-wife.’ ”

Recently, a bride asked Wallington for her advice. The bride said, “One [the stepfather] has raised me my whole life and given me everything and put me through university. I’ve got my master’s and my doctorate.” Her birth father, according to Wallington, “wasn’t as financially stable as the stepfather but [had] been there to support her emotionally.”

Wallington suggests two options in these cases: if the father and the stepfather don’t get along, “the bride should honour her birth father, first and foremost.” The birth father should walk her up the aisle. If the two fathers do get along, Wallington suggests the stepfather walk her “halfway up the aisle and her biological father does the rest of the stretch.” Another option is the two fathers both walk her up the aisle. “I’ve seen this maybe a handful of times,” says Wallington. “It’s a hard one and the reason it’s hard is that the aisles aren’t that big.”

Wallington tells brides, “Talk to both dads beforehand about their participation.” She recalls a birth father who refused to participate in the halfway-up-the-aisle plan. He said, “This is ridiculous. I’m blood. That should supersede everything.”

In the case of the stepdad who had paid for the bride’s education, the bride chose her birth father to walk her up the aisle. “The stepdad was a trooper,” reports Wallington. “He said, ‘Honey, it’s your day. I’ll be whoever you want me to be that day.’ It was such a classy thing for him to do and he was so sweet about it, the bride was even more tormented about the decision. The fact that he said, ‘I’m not upset. I’m here with your mom. I’m here for you.’ It was so emotional.”

Brides who want to honour their stepfather can invite them for the father-daughter dance, suggests B.C. wedding planner Kyla Charney of Happily Wedded After. “You’ve got stepfather songs that can be complete tear-jerkers.” A popular choice is He Didn’t Have to Be by Brad Paisley. “It’s about a single mom who meets and marries a new man and this man becomes everything he didn’t have to be.” There are no cut-and-dried rules of etiquette anymore, Charney says. “The stepfather could be the best man if the groom’s gotten to know him well enough.”

In Vancouver, Devon Hird, an associate wedding planner with Fairy Godmother Weddings, is seeing more mothers give away their daughters. “If there are family dynamics, and not wanting to hurt one father’s feelings, she would ask the mother.” Alternately, Hird suggests, “the mother and birth father walk side by side with her—that’s one of the ones I thought of.” Hird recently had a bride who’d lost touch with her birth father but still wanted him involved. “It’s not like the father is offended if the mother is asked. Well, maybe, if the mother and father aren’t on speaking terms, it wouldn’t be a first option,” she says.

Wedding planner Allyson Hoy from Maple Ridge, B.C., finds the issue “always difficult.” “There’s a lot of hurt that goes around. That’s why, when I get a bride, the first thing I say to her is, ‘Tell me about what you’re imagining as you go down the aisle.’ She might say, ‘I have my maid of honour. I have my bridesmaids.’ I’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s really nice. Well, who’s walking you down the aisle?’ If she says, ‘I don’t know at this stage,’ you know there’s an issue.” Hoy’s seen a situation where the bride wanted her birth mother and birth father to sit together, while her stepfather was relegated to a back table. The bride’s mom said, “No, I want my husband now sitting with me, not my ex.’ ”

“It gets really ugly,” says Hoy. “There’s always someone who comes up and says, ‘I’m refusing to sit with this person. I’m refusing to walk behind that person. I don’t want them here.’ It’s horrible, actually. Today, people say they want tradition. They really don’t want tradition!”

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