The Q: My daughter is getting married in 6 mos. It’s time to purchase the invitations. She wants’ her Bio Dad’s name on the invite and her Stepdad of 17 years and I are paying for the whole ceremony and reception. Her Bio Dad was hardly ever able to even pay me child support, while her stepdad has put her through college, and all expenses including rent, cars,insurance etc. I tried to tell her that she is confusing the announcement in the paper, with the invitation. The hosts of the wedding are listed ( including the Groom’s parents, because they have also contributed) on the invitation. Her Bio Dad is walking her down the isle, and dancing the first dance. His name is all over the program, but my husband and her real father of the last 17 years is not recognized except on the invitation- who is right? Her bio Dad’s family tell’s her that they won’t come to her wedding unless his name is on the invite! I say fine, they can sponsor him with half the expenses! Please help! Hopeless in Austin!
The A: WOW! OK, that is A LOT to handle. Take a really nice deep breath for a moment, because I think that it’s likely so in the heat of it all right now that it’s hard to separate your emotions from rational discussion with your daughter (and with good reason). Because I think it’s important to hear, I want to tell you that I agree with you. From a purely etiquette standpoint, the host of the reception should have their names on the invite. And, the knee jerk reaction in the Always a Bridesmaid offices are that you should encourage your daughter to call her dad’s family’s bluff and explain to her that you’re the ones paying for the wedding. However, we know that it’s much more complicated than that.
As I’m sure that you know, the love a child often has for their biological parents, even when a parent neglects their responsibilities and even when they are largely absent, is so strong that it is very hard for them to even think of slighting that parents feelings. Sometimes it is easier to take for granted the feelings of the parent (or in this case parents) that the child knows loves them unconditionally because they are afraid of displeasing or further alienating the parent that has been more absent.
When I got your email, it made me think of a personal anecdote that I will share. Pardon me while I go the long way around the airport to bring this plane home. When I was a senior in college, after a lifetime of not really knowing each other, my father got back in touch with me. I was about to graduate from Brown and commencement there is a HUGE “to do”. Despite not really being involved, he expressed a desire to be there because he was very proud. To me at the time, it was a no-brainer. “OF COURSE!” It didn’t occur to me AT ALL that his presence might hurt my grandparents feelings who had raised me since the age of 3. They expressed their reservations when I let them know that he would be there, but they presented their case in a very practical matter: where would he stay? would he come and eat with us? would he speak to my mother? And I, thinking emotionally, felt that as my family who loved me, they could deal with a little bit of awkwardness so that I could have my long last dad around at graduation.
Many years after the episode later, the REAL root of the problem revealed itself to me: it hurt the feelings of my real “parents” (my grandparents). I don’t think, even after so many years of them taking care of things and being there, that it occurred to me that they might have feelings of resentment or anger at my father for not doing his job. And that my invitation put him in a place of honor alongside theirs. Did I, at 21 or 22, care that it would “look weird” to have him there? Not at all . But, had I thought for a moment that I was hurting their feelings, then I may have played things differently.
I say ALL OF THIS to say that you are correct, but what is really happening is that you’re answering an emotional conflict of your daughters with practical tactics, and I suspect your daughter (like my younger self) doesn’t care too much about Peggy Post but DOES care about feelings. She should know that her stepfather had always dreamed of dancing with her and walking her down the aisle, but is happy to step aside so that her biological father can do so. But that said, while it’s your mutual pleasure to host this wedding for her, let her know that after all these years of taking care of her, in the respects of the invitation is hurts both of your feelings to see her father take credit for doing something that he didn’t really do- which is host the party. The father- daughter dance and walking down the aisle are true honors that will be recognized by everyone there (btw, a fabulous retort for those ridiculous family members threatening to boycott- they will miss her Biological father experiencing these milestones with her over what?) but SO IS the invitation. It’s a different kind of honor and I think you are “asking” her to be as considerate that you and your husband have your moment as she is being with her biological father.
Even though weddings are a milestone of adulthood, they actually bring up TONS of emotional issues that are hard for younger adults to navigate. I suspect that your daughter will really appreciate hearing about you and her stepfather’s feelings on the issue vs. concerns over how it might look.
If that appeal doesn’t work… then I guess you can go hardball and pull on the pursestrings, but I’d try this first.