“My daughter is marrying another woman next fall, and I just can’t go to her wedding. I don’t support her choice to marry someone of the same sex, and even if I could bring myself to go, I don’t think I could be happy for her—I would probably ruin the whole wedding. I don’t want to hurt her, but I don’t know what to do.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Alyse Knorr
I’ve got to be brutally honest with you here, Dad (can I call you dad?). I truly believe that the answer to this problem is that you need to find a way to make yourself comfortable with this wedding (the short-term issue) and this marriage (the long-term issue). You need to take this year (you have a whole year! There’s time!) to work hard on this. It will be work. And it will be hard. But you’re off to such a good start by coming here and so bravely asking this question. Sadly, that’s further than a lot of parents get.
Which is interesting, considering that (from what I hear) the most overwhelming emotion you feel as a parent—the emotion that drives basically everything you say and do with your kid—is love. I don’t know what it feels like to have a kid, but I’ve heard that it’s the most intense type of love on the planet. You feel it from the moment you hold that baby in your arms—this protective instinct and innate knowledge that you’ll do anything to keep your kid happy and safe.
And that’s why in certain scenarios, this love can manifest itself as fear—in your case, regarding your daughter’s sexuality. Maybe you’re afraid for her because of your religion, or because of your politics—you think she’ll go to hell or have a hard life. Your love manifests as fear, which in turn manifests as anger and disapproval. But what if you unpacked those feelings and found their roots, Dad? Could you pull them out like a weed and plant some flowers on top of them?
After all, there have probably been a lot of times throughout her life when you were afraid for your daughter, or when you weren’t thrilled with her decisions. Maybe you didn’t support the time she got that tattoo or piercing, or maybe you didn’t love it when she moved to Finland. It wasn’t the ideal “picture” of what you had in store for her, but you went to her going-away party and put on a happy face anyway, because you realized that it’s her life, not yours, to live. Because that’s what you sign up for when you become a parent: eternal love and support and protection. You sign up to be your kid’s ally forever, no matter what.
So this is why I’m telling you that it’s your job as a parent to work hard so you can attend your daughter’s wedding. It’s a joyous occasion for you both—you raised your daughter to be strong and pursue what makes her feel happy, complete, and most herself, and that’s just what her wedding will celebrate. Her wedding day will be one of the happiest of her life, and it will hurt her tremendously to not have you there to share it with her. It will possibly hurt her forever. In the case of this particularly huge life event, then, your daughter’s feelings need to come before your own. That’s part of what it means to be a parent. That’s part of what you signed up for.
It will also hurt you tremendously to not be there. Though it may not feel like it now, someday you will regret it, and you only get one shot at this. Not attending the wedding will impact your relationship with your daughter. No matter what you tell her, you’ll make a big statement by not attending the wedding, and she will experience it as such. Even if you don’t mean for it to communicate that you don’t love her, she may still take it that way.
Here’s the thing: I may not know what it’s like to have a kid, but you can’t know what it’s like to be a gay kid whose parent disapproves. If she’s anything like me, your daughter will never grow out of wanting your support and approval. So you have to trust me on this: There are few feelings worse than thinking you disgust or disappoint your parents, or that they don’t want to be a part of something crucially important to you. There are few worse feelings than thinking you have to choose between the love of your parents and your own self-love or the love of a partner. No one should have to make that choice, and even if you don’t want to hurt her (of course you don’t—you’re a great dad!), you are making your daughter feel that choice.
My mother always tells me that you never stop being a parent, no matter how old your kid is. You were there on your daughter’s first day of school, you taught her how to ride her bike, and you saw her off to the prom. I know you don’t want to miss this milestone—one of the most important in your daughter’s life. I know you can find a way to be strong for your daughter and set aside your fears for this one day.
Because just as you never stop feeling like your kid’s parent, your kid never stops feeling like your kid, either. Your daughter looked over her shoulder beaming at you as she flew away on her bike; she anxiously waved out the school bus window at you on her first day of kindergarten; and she rolled her eyes at you when you took a million photos of her in her prom dress, but secretly liked it. She wants you to be at her wedding so much! She’s about to start an exciting and maybe even a little bit intimidating new chapter of her life, and she needs you to be there for it to begin—just like she’s needed you so many times before. It’s for this reason that, in almost all cultures throughout the ages, parents play such a significant role in wedding traditions—to see their kid off into the new family they’re making for themselves.
Here’s the great news—no matter how strongly you feel about this now, you can change your mind about it. You can! You will shock yourself with who you can become by next fall. But it has to start with education: with reading more posts like this one (have I mentioned what a great start you’re off to by asking this question here?), reading books, talking to your daughter, talking to a therapist, and going to PFLAG meetings. The change doesn’t suddenly happen on its own like the flip of a light switch. Education has to be part of the equation. But you can do it—just follow your love for your daughter through it all.
Remember: No one’s asking you to be perfect, and no one expects this to be easy for you. But we (your daughter and I) can and do expect you to try your absolute hardest. To fight for who you can become for your daughter. Some of the most powerful expressions of love I’ve ever felt from my mother were the times when she stood up for who I really am—and the reason those moments were so powerful is because I knew how hard she worked to get there. She shows her love for me not through perfection but through genuine, constant effort.
With all of this said, if at the end of the day you think you still aren’t in a good place emotionally about the wedding, then please DO NOT GO to the wedding. If you think there is any chance you could display even the smallest negative reaction—a frown on your face, looking away at every kiss (let’s be honest: there will be many kisses, since it’s a wedding), or anything else of that nature—then you absolutely should not go to the wedding. Going to the wedding and making your daughter feel worried or sad or embarrassed is way worse than not going to her wedding at all.
If you don’t go, then please, please talk to your daughter about that decision. Be kind to her. Explain that you’re working on moving past this and that you truly want to be there to celebrate her marriage, but you just don’t want to risk hanging a cloud over her sunny day. Then find some other way to celebrate your daughter’s marriage. Write a nice card. Take your daughter and her new spouse out for dinner. Or you can always kick in some financial support, because weddings are expensive, you know?
Dad, whatever you decide to do, do it with the same pure love you felt the first time you held your daughter in your arms. I want to leave you with one of my favorite poems: “On Children,” by Khalil Gibran. I give it to you as a gift, from a daughter to a father. We’ll never meet, but I believe in you. And I’m counting on you.
Alyse Knorr is the author of two books of poems, Copper Mother (Switchback Books, forthcoming 2015) and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books, 2013), as well as the chapbook Alternates (dancing girl press, 2014). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Caketrain, ZYZZYVA, Drunken Boat, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, among others. She received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. She is a co-founder and co-editor of Gazing Grain Press, an inclusive feminist press, and teaches English at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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