There’s a recent post at Captain Awkward in which the letter writer, who seems like a really nice person and deserves better than any of this shit, basically asks this: “My father mistreats me in every possible way, so how do I include him in my wedding?”
Between her letter, the Captain’s answer, and the stories being shared in the comment section, there are some things I want to talk about today. One is that the letter writer is a great example of a grown daughter who should have cut her father out of her life years ago. (Her mother and stepfather are good to her, while her father and stepmother are awful.) I think more grown children should cut ties with their parents, not because that’s a good thing unto itself, but because there are a lot of parents out there who are terrible people and their adult sons and daughters would lead much better lives without them.
The truth is that terrible people can get into child-having relationships, and stay in their children’s lives into adulthood, without ever becoming less-terrible people. Sometimes, their children manage, against the odds, to grow into decent people. Or sometimes their children also turn out to be assholes, but they still deserve better parents. Complicating matters further is that “terrible parent” and “terrible human being” are not interchangeable concepts. It’s possible to be an utterly terrible human being and still somehow manage to be good at parenting (we’ll call it the Cersei Lannister Principle), just as it’s possible to be a lousy parent while being an otherwise very decent person. That’s not what’s going on in the Captain Awkward post, though; the writer’s father has always been a shitty parent, and continues to be a terrible person. One of the ways that he is terrible to his children is that he married a woman who despises them, and he continually expects them to prove themselves worthy of her approval, rather than asking her to be a good family member to them. Sounds like they’re perfect for each other, but the letter writer is a much better daughter than her father has ever deserved, and she’ll ultimately lead a more fulfilling life if she tells him to fuck off. If her father were at all inclined to treat his children the way decent fathers do, he would have shown such inclination by now. But he hasn’t. DTMFA. And don’t invite his sorry ass to the wedding.
The other matter that this post brings up is the tremendous stress and aggravation associated with weddings and their planning. The fact that she’s planning a wedding has brought a lot of family issues to the fore with the writer, and much of the Captain’s advice has to do with managing the expectations that go along with holding a wedding. And then many of the commenters share their stories of how planning a wedding is such a gigantically exhausting, traumatizing ordeal, and the occasion itself continues to bring out the worst in people they would like to keep in their lives. And it’s not the sort of stress where everything is terrifying while it’s happening, but the result is totally worth it and a month later you laugh about that time your aunt threw a fit over place settings at the reception. No, it’s not like that. It’s more like the kind of experience where you still say, years later: “That was bad, I did not like it, and I would have preferred not to go through that,” regardless of how good the marriage is.
And after reading about all these experiences, I have to ask: Why is it like this? Why do weddings have to be such a nightmare for the people involved? Why do we allow a supposedly happy event to cause so much misery and anxiety to the people who should be benefitting from it the most? I can’t help but think there’s no written-in-stone reason why it has to be this way. If we hadn’t decided at the cultural level that weddings must live up to a certain ideal, people would be able to get married without enduring such drama.
Much of the problem is that we expect weddings to be such big, elaborate, fancy, expensive affairs. The money changing hands is definitely a factor. The more people are involved in paying for a wedding, the more people have a say in planning it, the more people are fighting over the details, and there are countless details to be hashed out in any respectable wedding. We’ve gotten to the point where there are a lot of people whose ability to make a living depends on our buying into the Big Fancy Wedding ideal (caterers, photographers, decorators, planners), and so there’s always this pressure to pull out all the stops, but this isn’t in the interests of the couple getting married. It’s in the interests of the people getting paid for the wedding.
But then part of the problem is not just the pressure of commerce, but the pressure of tradition. We have certain ideas of how things should be done, and we have no arguments in favor of doing things that way except that’s the way they’ve always been done. Even if they’ve only been done that way for the last few decades, if even that. The Captain says:
Any time you fuck with tradition you will get pushback from somebody that whatever it is is a necessary part of a wedding. “What do you MEAN you won’t have your DAD walk you down the aisle are you SOME KIND OF A MONSTER who EATS PUPPIES?”
Sometimes, tradition is innocuous, and sometimes, tradition is toxic. The idea of the father walking the bride down the aisle is totally fine if the bride has a good relationship with her father, but some don’t. And I realize there’s also a lot of pressure on young adults to maintain connection with their parents no matter how toxic those parents are, because parenting is the most difficult work there is, and children are so revolting they’re damn lucky their poor beleaguered parents didn’t drown them when they were babies, but nobody asked to be brought into the world. If anyone was forced to become a parent, that’s not the child’s fault. Some parents have nothing good to offer their adult offspring except their absence, and tradition, unto itself, is not a sound argument for anything. If the bride’s father is a piece of shit, she should be allowed to ask her mother to walk her down the aisle, or her stepfather, or another valued older relative, or she can walk her damn self up to the altar without a guardian at her side. All of these options are perfectly valid. Same for everything else that’s supposedly necessary for a wedding. The big puffy white dress, the guests divided by bride and groom, the receiving line, the fancy cake at the reception? These are all just things we do. As long as the result is that two people who love each other are now married, the traditions can go fuck themselves. Tradition can bite my ass. Some children deserve better parents than the ones who raised them.