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On Getting Given Away

November 6, 2010

My dad and I have this unusual connection. Before I tell you about that…let me tell you a bit about why I decided to write this post.

If you haven’t read Sarah’s blog, take a break from this post to check it out. Her six-year-old daughter answers questions on the blog as the Tiny Wedding Planner. It’s really the cutest thing, at first, and then you get past wanting to squeal from how adorable her daughter is, and the advice is legit and of the pure-and-innocent persuasion.

Anna recently asked TWP a question about the depth of her father’s involvement in their wedding. This was a topic on my mind long before Isaiah proposed, and truthfully, before I even met him.

My dad is an alcoholic. He has been since he was in his teens and only took a short break during the three years he courted my mom…only to quickly resume after they were married and I came along.

There are varying degrees of alcoholism. Some folks are the after-work-grab-a-drink-or-five-everyday type. My dad’s the disappear-for-months-at-a-time type.

When I was younger, I was definitely aware of his alcoholism, but I stayed pretty separate from him during those times. I remember thinking the smell of alcohol was so warm and sweet on his scruff and I slept almost every single night in one of his undershirts and wanted to be closer and closer to him. When I was in middle school, he would pick me up every Monday from school to take me to choir practice an hour away and then we would finish up the night at The Enchanted Castle.*

We used to take an annual trip to Hawaii and one year, my mom didn’t go**. It was my dad and I. He was absent enough to let me get a sunburn so bad, I had deep scabs on my shoulders for more than a month after. There was no defining moment where my dad hurt me, it was just his distance from everyday that led to more and more surface cuts each time.

My parents divorced when I was 12. I knew how much my dad’s alcoholism and repeated stays at rehab affected my mom and I knew he was getting more and more absent from her as he fell deeper in. It wasn’t a last-straw sort of situation. It was an even-my-dad-knew-it-was-time situation. He helped us buy a new house for ourselves.

My dad came by often to pick me up. I have as many fond memories of him being loving and thoughtful. When I was 15, I was dropped off at his house to stay with him and his girlfriend. His girlfriend had left, the door was kicked in, and all of our furniture was gone except the couch, where my dad lay. He had a full beard. There were a dozen empty liters around the room. I thought he was dead.

My dad has been recovering excellently for two months in a program now. Even after all of the roller-coasters I have been on with him, I can’t distance myself. Someday, he’ll die. Because of his lifestyle, that could be sooner rather than later. There are two reasons I don’t waste any time being upset with him:

  1. For myself.  He has disappeared most years, once per year. Every time, I wonder if I’ll see him again. When he dies, I can’t live the rest of my remaining years regretting not enjoying every minute we had together.
  2. It’s not a choice. I’ll elaborate more than a sentence on that point.

My mom is an incredible person, I’ve told you that before. I would say I get equal halves of my personality from my parents, respectively. But there are qualities that, while he is gone, I can’t identify with anyone in my family on, because they are the ones I share with him. We’re both loud, entertainingly cynical and really talkative. My dad often tells me, “You are my heart.” We are bound to one another because of that connection I mentioned.

Anyways, because I choose to stay close to my dad, I have a dilemma on my hands. I decided a while ago to have my mom walk me down the aisle. If my dad is able to come to the wedding, he’ll be welcome to join us on the other arm.

Choosing who walks you down the aisle can be tough. I believe it’s an honor. I believe it’s representative of who gets the privilege of giving you away and should, therefore, be the person who is responsible for the person you’ve become. But am I gonna let principle stand in the way of me sharing the day with my dad if he’s there? Hell no, I’m not.

P.S. If you have made a different decision in your similar situation, it’s obviously one of the most personal, if not the most personal decision at times, in the planning of a wedding. If you feel comfortable sharing, I like listening.

*My mom and I did the same thing on Wednesdays when I had ice-skating practice…we would go to Marie Callender’s afterward and share broccoli cheese soup and a piece of banana cream pie.

**More on my family’s “status” later.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2010 9:08 am

    I think you are an amazing and forgiving person. I love that he is welcome to have an arm but it is your mom that is walking you down. props to you!

  2. November 6, 2010 9:53 am

    This is a brave post, lady. Kudos.

    My family is also divided, but I’ve chosen to not have my father in my life because I don’t have those warm memories of him being there. Ever. If he was there, he was causing pain. So he isn’t in my life at all (haven’t seen him since my youngest sister’s funeral), and he won’t be at my wedding. My mom will be walking me down the aisle if anyone does, and I’ll have a dance with her. Because she’s been there, she’s parented me. I want to honor that.

    My weird choice is: do I invite my cousins on my dad’s side? I’m friends with them on facebook (after they all swore to not divulge anything to my father), I’ve seen congratulations at their graduations, and I think I’d be happy for them to be there, although I’m sure they will be uncomfortable at my secular wedding. I don’t want to throw the family baby out with the dad bathwater, if that makes sense?

    • November 6, 2010 7:12 pm

      thanks, jo. i understand that…we’ve got that situation here as well with my dad’s family…i say don’t even worry about it…one of the things i loved from angie ( and josh’s wedding pillars was they didn’t want anyone who they hadn’t talked to in the last year at the wedding…that’s a pretty gold standard…but mostly, how will YOU feel the day of with them there…are you gonna feel like you’re being reintroduced to people and like you have to stir up small talk.

  3. November 6, 2010 1:36 pm

    Your situation sounds similar to my best friend’s. Ultimately her dad was able to be there and walked her down the aisle with her mom. He was on his best behavior all night. I hope your dad shows up for you, but if he doesn’t it sounds like you’ll be OK. You’re one strong lady!

    • November 6, 2010 7:13 pm

      that sounds awesome for your friend! i have a strong feeling my dad will come through, he was at my hs graduation and is planning to be at my col. graduation this december, so (fingers crossed)! thanks so much, kc, you’re sweet.

  4. November 7, 2010 12:09 pm

    This is an amazing post, Lizzie. It’s so hard to know what to do when you have a troubled relationship with a parent. I have a difficult relationship with my dad, although not nearly as difficult as what you have to deal with.

    I’m hoping that TWP will have an easier time navigating her relationship with her dad, but she is wise beyond her years from going though her parents’ divorce at such an early age.

    • November 7, 2010 9:29 pm

      thanks, sarah…i don’t think there are different levels of difficulty, just because whatever each person feels is the worst they go through, you know? i used to feel different about that…which led to my cookie cutter belief on that.

      i hope she gets through it as well…it’s weird how divorce hit me later in life…made me question the stability of love..and even though TWP saw a divorce as such a young age, she also saw the renewal of love later…(still at a young, impressionable age). from reading tony’s posts and comments, he seems like just the guy to restore any lost faith in love she might be facing…and although i know that’s not the only effect of seeing divorce at a young age, it will certainly help and offer stability.

  5. November 7, 2010 8:01 pm

    This was a really lovely, brave post. I admire your ability not to waste time being upset.

  6. November 8, 2010 9:04 am

    This is a brave post, thank you for sharing and being so open about it!

    My dad was an alcoholic, he became sober when I was 12 but the relationship had serious ups and downs even after due to the effects alcohol had on him, our family, etc. I really understood what you meant though about not wasting the time…bc as you know, the abuse they put their bodies through definitely takes a toll, they won’t always be there, and it is a disease. you have to do what you need to do for you – for some people that would be to keep distance, to shut someone out, for others it’s to keep by their side and to always be there to help pick them up…we’re all different, but it’s amazing to read your story and how strong and sure of yourself you sound – I know it can take a lot to deal with the emotional roller coaster, and to truly understand everything you’ve been (put) through … I love that he has “an arm” if he is able… always be true to what you need and what you want from the relationship!! hugs!!

    • November 8, 2010 10:47 am

      Suzanne…I’m sorry you had to go through that as well…It’s hard when they miss out on some major years of development and although I’m close with my dad, we never got that back…there are definitely some levels of intimacy that I save just for my mom and Isaiah…you know?

      Thanks so much for your reply…

  7. November 8, 2010 4:07 pm

    Such a strong post.

    My situation is somewhat tenthoulite but it still hurts.

    It’s hard but fathers are fathers and if you think he should get a chance, he should.


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