Monday, January 20, 2020

The Case of the Unfatherly Father

Speaking of appalling behavior, here’s a letter that a woman sent to Carolyn Hax at the Washington Post.

Apparently, her sister was her father’s favorite. Dad did everything for sis but practically ignored the letter writer, who calls herself the Unfavorite. Dad attended the first daughter's school events and did not attend those of the second daughter. He did so even when he had to make a special effort. He paid for first daughter's wedding, but has now run out of funds, and will not pay for second daughter's. One does not understand why there was such a gross disparity in the way that the man treated his two daughters. One does not care to know what was going on in this man’s head.

So, now, the Unfavorite is getting married and, as a reward for a lifetime of rude disregard,  she does not want her father to walk her down the aisle. Nor does she want him to give a toast or to have a special dance with her.

She wants, in other words, to humiliate her father at her wedding. That means, to call him out for a lifetime of disrespect and inattention.

Of course, her mother is appalled by the scene that this will create. The Unfavorite has asked Mom to tell Dad that he will not be permitted to play a traditional fatherly role at the wedding. Mom does not want to do it, and is begging her daughter to reconsider.

Here is the letter:

I always knew my sister was my dad's favorite. He always made time to show up at her cheerleading competitions but never to my soccer games. Not once. Then there were the daddy-daughter dances at our high school. My sister and dad loved them so much, and I couldn't wait until it was my turn. My dad travels almost every weekend for work, so the fact that he'd stay home and go to the dances was really important. When my turn came, my dad didn't decline weekend work for me, not even my senior year, after he promised he'd make it.

I know it sounds stupid but that really broke my heart. At my sister's wedding my dad gave a toast about how she was his "special little girl" who he loved so much that he actually turned down work to go to dances with her. I had to force myself not to cry.
Now I'm getting married and there's no way I want him walking me down the aisle, having a special dance with me or giving a toast. I told my mom so she could be the one to tell him and she is begging me to reconsider, saying I'm being petty and making a spectacle of myself.

Am I? I just can't see letting him take that role just so people won't talk and he won't feel bad. He never cared if I felt bad. My fiance and I just want it to be a happy day for us and we're paying for it all ourselves, unlike my sister. Since, of course, now that they're closer to retirement, they have no money for my wedding like they did for hers.
Whatever. I'm not asking someone else to fill in for him, just eliminating those things entirely. Should I follow through with our plan?

— The Unfavorite

It’s not so much that she was the Unfavorite, or that she was in second place. It is as though she did not have a place in her father’s heart or his attention. Or, for that matter, in public. Daddy-daughter dances are public events. Cheerleading and soccer are public events. If Dad showed up for one daughter's public events and absented himself for the other daughter's events... he was making a public statement.

Hax understands the situation perfectly and stands with the Unfavorite:

Your mother said you’re “being petty, and making a spectacle of myself”?

Not only is that appalling in its own right, but it is also world-class enabling of the emotional abuse your father dumped on you on her watch for your entire childhood.

She can scold you but couldn’t tell your dad it was unacceptable to skip all of his other daughter’s dances? She couldn’t call his attention to the missed soccer games and countless smaller slights? His cruel and selfish choices are obvious; hers are insidious.

Drawing public attention to bad behavior always entails risk. I agree with Hax here, but I will also add that the father’s reduced role will be the subject of many conversations and many suspicions at the wedding. People will ask why this father has been relegated to such a diminished role. They will ask what might or might not have been going on between this man and his daughters.

And they will not be finding any good answer, any answer that will make the man look good.

Obviously, the man has already declared his other daughter to be the favorite, and has done so in public. His toast to his favorite was an obvious insult to his unfavorite.

Sometimes people use the enclosed space of family life to hide bad behavior and to maintain a good public face. Normally, I think that this is a good idea. And yet, there are exceptions and this is one. The man ought to be exposed and humiliated at the wedding. 

True enough, this will change the tenor of the ceremony and the celebration. Some people will blame the unfavorite for being graceless. But most people will walk away considering that they should revise their opinion of the father. And it will reflect badly on the mother. And it will surely cause yet another breach between her and her sister.

The stakes are high, but the Unfavorite has a right to have the wedding that she wants. If Dad wanted to play a more fatherly role in her wedding or her life, he should have acted like a father to his unfavored daughter. Of course, this raises the question of whether or not he had fathered both daughters?

Surely, the question will arise in some enquiring minds. And the question itself will also reflect badly on the mother. Even if it does not, she did, as Hax remarks, allow this to happen under her roof. At this point, she has nothing to say, except perhaps to apologize for her own dereliction and work to make amends.


JPL17 said...

What a heartbreaking letter. It's an extremely difficult situation, but I agree 100% with Carolyn Hax's and Stuart's advice.

The only thing I'd add is that, while of course Unfavorite takes several risks shutting her father out of his traditional wedding roles, allowing him to perform those roles would entail serious risk as well -- in particular, the risk of yet another public humiliation. Who knows what subtle or not-so subtle digs he could slip into the wedding toast or father-daughter dance?

UbuMaccabee said...

I would place the father in a second tier position at the wedding. Much like he did for his daughter. It should sting some, it’s meant to.

Anonymous said...

Without facts, the grapevine will burn.

Unfavorite wants revenge, but will likely burn down the barn, not build a new one.

To many people, revenge looks like justice.
A very, very old story.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why he's invited. The mother is equally to blame so she also shouldn't be invited.

Linda Fox said...

Yeah, the daughter might not be the father's. But, even more likely, the mother became pregnant when the father had planned to exit the family, and was forced to stay around, for the sake of public opinion.

Whichever, that blatant favoritism had to hurt the daughter. But, she might not have been the intended recipient of the message, but the mother would have been. Either way, have the wedding you want.

My only suggestion is that she not make the mother deliver the message. Send a letter herself. It's more adult, and doesn't triangulate. Children blame the mother for the father's failings. Grown-ups assign the blame on the perp.