Q: Although my parents divorced when I was very young and I lived mostly with my mom, I’ve always been very close to my dad. My mom remarried when I was 7, and I am also very close to my bonus dad. I’m getting married soon and would like them both to walk me down the aisle, but my dad says, “Over my dead body!” I don’t know what to do. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Just as the mother of the bride may dream of shopping for just the right dress with her daughter, dads also look forward to walking their daughter down the aisle. Rarely in that dream do moms and dads envision sharing that time with someone else, but often today it seems they do.
Odds are if a mom and dad break up they’ll meet someone else at some point, and that someone will have an impact on their children. To issue an ultimatum forcing a child at any age to choose between a parent and a bonus parent is breaking every rule of good ex-etiquette — and that’s exactly what “Over my dead body!” asks a child to do.
Good ex-etiquette for parents Rule No. 1 is “Put the children first.” That rule is particularly important on her wedding day.
Rule No. 7 suggests you “use empathy when problem solving,” so it may be understandable if Dad’s feelings are hurt when asked to share the limelight, but it’s also understandable if the bride feels torn under these circumstances. To eliminate the pressure, according to good ex-etiquette, the bride makes the ultimate decision about who walks her down the aisle — and her decision should be openly accepted by all parent figures.
For the record, I have seen all this handled a few different ways. First, after cultivating a close relationship over the years, the dad and bonus dad stand on either side of the bride as they all walk down the aisle together. If the bride wishes to publicly distinguish dad from bonus dad, dad stands at her left as she takes his arm.
A more common approach is for the bonus dad to walk the bride to where the father is sitting, he rises and walks her the rest of the way down the aisle, ultimately answering the question, “Who gives this bride in marriage?”
Of course, there are brides who ask grandfathers or uncles or special family friends to take on this honor. Perhaps the most nontraditional choice is when the bride asks her single mother to give her away — but then again, that is indicative of who raised her and would be the appropriate choice under the circumstances.
Finally, although your dad may not see it at first, your wishing to have both dad and bonus dad walk you down the aisle is the ultimate parenting compliment. It means all the parent figures in your life put you first. They loved you enough to treat you with respect and allowed you to form your own loving, trusting relationships.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” and the founder of bonusfamilies.com.