Weddings are rough on our dear old Dads.
Traditionally, they pay for our weddings.
And they pay, emotionally, too.
Rationally, your Dad’s thrilled about your wedding
He's happy you’ve found the right guy, and he’s excited about the prospect of grandchildren.
Emotionally, your Dad may be reeling
And he may not even know it.
Weddings can ignite deep, unruly, Oedipal, raw stuff for some Dads.
It's normal for Dads to feel really sad he’s losing you. Engagement, as I describe in my book, can be a time of grief and loss for everyone in your family.
Dads may be scared, too: what will happen when you’re married and gone? Your wedding makes him feel his age -- you were once that tiny baby girl he held in his arm. Your wedding marks the passage of an enormous amount of time, and that, on some level, brings him closer to his own death, his own mortality. That scares him, too.
Many men aren’t taught how to feel their feelings. Especially Dads, who are socialized to be The Rock of the family. So Dads misbehave, act up, act out, and sometimes act downright weird.
7 different types of Dads, and how they react to their daughter's wedding
The Devoted Dad understands that weddings signify that he is no longer the #1 man in his daughter’s life, a position he’s held since the day she was born. A Devoted Dad can grieve this loss -- feel his feelings, know it's OK and normal -- and let his daughter go.
The Checkbook-In-Hand Dad tries to maintain his #1 position by sparing no expense. He’s trying to avoid his loss by giving her everything she wants. Way beyond reason.
The Denial Dad avoids the reality that he’s losing his daughter. One bride I worked with described watching “Father Of The Bride” with her parents. 15 minutes into the movie, Dad was snoring on the couch, out like a light. Watching Steve Martin's antics (remember how nutty he was in grocery store about the too many hot dog buns?) hit too close to home, so he checked out.
The Meddling Dad involves himself in tiny wedding decisions. He has an opinion about absolutely everything. Why? By focusing (obsessing?) on the details of the day, he’s found a way NOT to feel the loss of his daughter.
The Distant Dad is disinterested in the details of the wedding, his daughter and/or her fiancé. This Dad is in so much pain about the impending loss of his daughter that he puts up a wall.
The Estranged Dad continues to cause pain in his daughter's life. While it may be the psychologically healthiest thing for the Dad and daughter to not be in relationship, his absence is keenly felt during her engagement, wedding day, and the walk down the aisle. The dysfunction of the relationship can't be swept under the rug, and that hurts.
The Deceased Dad is simply not there. His daughter will have conflicting feelings of deep sadness and raging anger that he’s missing yet another important event in her life. Brides who have lost parents are amazed when grief makes an unexpected visit during their engagements.
How is your Dad coping with your engagement and wedding?
Dad needs to feel the loss because the reality is: you are leaving him. Let him be distant, in denial, or too generous. It’s his weird way of dealing with his sadness.
What can you do?
Talk with him about your feelings of loss and fear about leaving him. Maybe he’ll open up. Or maybe not. He’s an old dog, and he doesn’t learn new tricks. Especially how to feel and talk about feelings. Don’t force him. Don’t fix him.
Be patient with your Old Man. He’s has dreaded your wedding since the day you were born
After 11 ½ months of sticking his nose into every aspect of our wedding, he finally articulated what had been going on. At the very end of our walk down the aisle, he said, “She’s yours now, Jason,” and sat down, sadly and heavily, beside my mother.
He was 100% right. Before the wedding, I was primarily his. Now, primarily, I am another man’s wife.
That’s sad for our old Dads. Brides must be patient with them as they get used to their position as #2.