How to tell dad that another man is walking you down the aisle

Two Fathers giving daughter away, Shoreline Grill
Two dads walking down the aisle photo courtesy of Katherine O Photo, via the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool.
My parents were divorced when I was very young, and a family friend stepped in to take my father's place in my life. I still see this man as a father figure, more so one than my biological father. The other man who helped raise me is gay, and at this point in his life knows he isn't going to have any children, and sees my brother and I as his children instead. When I asked he agreed to walk me down the aisle, but I don't know how to break that to my biological father, who I DON'T want to walk me down the aisle. Period.

How do I tell my biological father that another man who did more raising of me is going to walk me down the aisle instead of him? -Ellie

Ellie, I think it's wonderful that you've chosen the man who you feel is a positive father figure in your life to walk you down the aisle. Walking someone down their wedding aisle is privilege, not a blood right — one that you feel this Other Dad clearly earned in his role raising you.

As for how to break it down for bio-dad, here's my advice…

I think the best tactic to use when telling bio-dad is to make it less about "You're not walking me down the aisle, Dad" and more about "I've chosen Other Dad to walk me down the aisle."

For all you know, your father may be relieved (some absent fathers find the whole thing awkward), but if he persists with questions — focus on the positive reasoning behind choosing Other Dad, rather than the negative reasons why you're not choosing bio-dad.

If bio-dad keeps trying to turn the conversation to "why not me?," keep focusing on the positives of why you chose Other Dad. Pick a particular shared memory with Other Dad to share with bio-dad (ie "I knew on one of my and Other Dad's mountain walks that this would be just right") instead of a negative against bio-dad (ie "You were hardly even around when I was growing up, Dad — of course I don't want you walking me down the aisle!")

Additionally, you could create a different role for bio-dad in the ceremony — he could do a reading or start the ring warming or lead a song. If you opt for this tactic, it's less about "I don't want you walking me down the aisle," and more about "I envision this other role for you instead."

The important thing is to focus less on what you're denying him, and more on why it feels important to you to honor Other Dad. If the conversation starts to slide off the rails, try some Copy 'n' Paste Conflict Resolution and politely end the conversation — ie, "While I wish I could change how you feel, I respect that we all have different opinions about weddings … and I hope you know that despite this disagreement, it doesn't change how much I love you! I'm so looking forward to seeing you at our wedding." *click*

  1. Thank you for this! I've been wondering how I should break it to my "never-there" bio-dad that my mother was going to be walking me down the aisle. Now I can do it with the least amount of drama possible.

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  2. It was hard to tell my dad that no one was walking me down the aisle- my husband was going to meet me halfway- but he was in the camp of relieved. We've just had so much drama over the years, I think it released him from feeling too responsible during the wedding. I did ask him to do a reading though, and it was a great one that he chose.

    My mom, on the other hand, was pretty much mortified that no one was walking with me, to the point of asking my brother FOR ME if he'd do it but I intercepted in time, lol.

    Best of luck to everyone in this situation!

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    • Thank you! This is a life saver. I have been distraught on how I wanted to walk down the isle. I don't believe anyone can give me away, but my fiance and I both want the dress a secret until the walk. This solves every problem. Thanks!

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  3. My dad left my mom 6 months ago after 30 years of marriage…we've never been close, and I always thought of both of my parents walking me down the aisle….now it's gonna just be me and Mom, and this gives me some great ways of breaking the news to my dad…

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  4. I'm so glad that you covered this topic! This seems to be an issue that many brides have been dealing with lately, and it's an issue that I'll have to deal with when the time comes. Thanks so much!

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  5. Thank you so much for this. My bio-dad is still going to take it badly, (it doesn't help that he doesn't like Clayton, my Other Dad, or that he didn't get to walk my half-sister either.) but I guess I'll have to be willing to make allowances. Maybe say 'I'll still do the Father-Daughter dance with you!' (which I don't want to do, but hey, compromise is a bitch.) Still, I predict I'll be ending it with the bit you put at the end. Oh well.

    I gotta say, as much as I don't see my bio-dad as my father, I feel kind of sorry for him. As far as I can tell, none of his children even like him. None of us wanted him at our weddings at all although my brother did invite him, and I'm doing that too. And if he decides he's not coming because of this, well, um… darn?

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    • I'm cutting out the awkward "father daughter dance" from the start. Fiancé and his mom can have a song and dance whenever they want, there just won't be an announcement about it!

      1 agrees
  6. This is such a well-timed post for me. I've been trying to work up the courage to tell my stepdad that I don't want *anybody* walking me down the aisle. My mom says it will break his heart if he doesn't get to, but the thought of being "given away" makes me feel really squeamish. :\ Coming up with an alternate role seems like the best thing to do…

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    • Boy was this a tough one for me! I didn't handle things great because it honestly didn't cross my mind that my step-dad thought he would be walking me (bio-dad in jail), and so I didn't address it all. Then it came up in conversation and I wasn't prepared and things ended quite badly. Still trying to figure out the solution to this one. I'm not fond of my step-dad, he was physically abusive when I was growing up, and he is now psychologically abusive to my mom (whom I love dearly!). After letting my mom know all of that, things have exploded. :(

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  7. Well, I called my dad. I'm strangely relieved that I got his voicemail. Here's what I said, in case anyone else needs ideas:

    "Dad, I know you're not going to take this well, but I've been thinking about this for a while, and this is really what I want. I'd like Clayton to walk me down the aisle at the wedding. He helped mom so much with raising Joel and I, and he has no other children of his own. Since he sees me as his daughter, I thought this would be a great way to include him in the wedding. I'll still do the father daughter dance with you, but this is a great way to thank him for helping so much when I was growing up."

    I'm not looking forward to his reaction, but… oh well. I'll wing it if I'm away from my computer. And if things go badly, they go badly. Hopefully we'll forgive each other eventually.

    9 agree
  8. One of my girl friends just got married this past weekend, and she had her grandfather walk her down the aisle and had both her grandfather and her biological father "give her away." Maybe this would work for Ellie (or anyone who has an absent bio-dad).

    In my case, I walked by myself down the aisle. My DAD was my maternal grandfather, and he died a little over six years ago. The only other person I would have had walk me would be my brother, but he was my Man Of Honor.

    You just need to figure out what works for you and DO THAT.

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  9. Great advice for a sticky situation. Though I have to say that in general, I'm not a fan of the "Don't be offended — I'm making you a reader!" approach. I see this offered up as a solution for all sorts of things (to placate a friend/relative who expected to be a bridesmaid, etc.) and frankly I think people see through it. If this dad is the type who believes he should walk her down the aisle just because they are related by blood, I don't think he will feel any better about the situation if he's reading a verse while some other man walks her down the aisle. With that said, I suppose giving him another part of the wedding will make him feel a little better in the long run. But I also have to add that if he didn't earn the right to walk her down the aisle, then maybe he didn't earn another special spot in the wedding, either. Sounds harsh but I have been in a similar situation.

    But thanks for the reminder of the conflict resolution thing! I seriously, literally, am cutting and pasting those lines into an email today that deals with family members and wedding drama. It sums up exactly what I meant. Thanks!

    8 agree
  10. Cassie, I'm a big proponent of the different roles approach. My father didn't walk me down the aisle, not because I don't love him, but because A) I wanted to walk down the aisle with my husband B) my father's a poet and him reading one of him poems was way more meaningful than him putting one foot in front of the other with me.

    I don't think creating alternative roles for people has to be an issue of dismissing them.

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  11. this is SO hard
    I'm trying to figure out how to skip the father/daughter dance (my family doesn't really dance) without insisting on skipping the mother/son dance

    and the walk down the aisle–oh boy–thanks for the pointers. I have no Other Father but having no one walk me down the aisle is something I'll have to explain.

    1 agrees
  12. I'm having both my parents walk me down the aisle. I'd like my groom-to-be to do the same when he approaches the altar, to symbolize that both his parents and my parents give their blessing for the marriage (mine will be very family-/community- oriented), but I'm not sure how his traditional parents would take it. Anyone have any ideas on how to broach that subject?

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    • We got married in a Methodist church and they have cut it out of the ceremony we used. The pastor asks instead for the parent's blessing. My dad walked me down the aisle but I really liked that all the parents (DH has four due to remarriage) we're asked to stand and say they were down with us…I think it would also work in a non religious ceremony too.

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  13. Jess – I'd hit an all-positive angle with a side helping of flattery. Start by saying your parents are walking you down the aisle because they both mean so much to you that you couldn't image doing it without both of them. Then say that, while you know it's not very traditional, the idea of them doing the same thing with their sons sounds wonderful; it's a public declaration of both you and your husband being brought to that point by your respective parents, and then starting a new life together. Make it sound like the idea of walking out with both of your parents is just too lovely and symbolic to just have the bride do it, and you want to include them as well.

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  14. I learned today the my nephew is a wonderful 'I don't want to talk about this anymore' buffer. Elbows in the boob and diaphragm aren't fun, but at least it's not "I don't understand! What did I do??" Not to mention when I said ow, the baby started crying, and I had a wonderful excuse to get off the phone.

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  15. This is such a well-timed post for me. I've been trying to work up the courage to tell my stepdad that I don't want *anybody* walking me down the aisle. My mom says it will break his heart if he doesn't get to, but the thought of being "given away" makes me feel really squeamish. :\ Coming up with an alternate role seems like the best thing to do…

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  16. @Jess: Traditionally for Jewish weddings both mother and father walk the groom down the aisle.

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  17. great reply ariel! thanks again… i've loved this website for a while now…

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  18. Thanks for posting the photo! This bride was really close to both her real father and her stepfather and wanted them both to walk her down the aisle. Her parents even danced with each others spouses on the dance floor!

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    • I was planning on doing just that! I'm actually a little closer to my step-dad (who considers me his biological daughter) than my biological dad, but I love them both very much and it made perfect sense to me to have them both walk me down the aisle. Glad to see I'm not the only one! :3

      3 agree
  19. Historically, I've had a turbulent relationship with my father. He was mostly not around growing up and, when he was, so was my step mother…who had a hard time sharing my dad. Needless to say, our relationship was very rocky for a very long time. Over the past 5 years or so, I have worked really hard to let it go. Water under the bridge. It is HARD to let go…but personally, I couldn't carry this baggage anymore. Either let it go (and salvage a relationship, if possible…or not). So that is what I did.

    The good news is that things are much better between us (far from perfect), but enough that I was comfortable having my dad (AND MOM) walk me down the isle together. Talk about awesome (and scary, since it was a very bitter divorce and they hadn't seen each other in like 15 years).

    Good luck to you all, whatever you decide! Remember, you need to make sure you are doing what makes YOU happy and comfortable.

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  20. My boyfriend has been an absent dad, but through no choice of his own. His ex-wife has made it very uncomfortable for him to participate in his daughter's life. If he were to be at her wedding and see another man walk her down the aisle, it would just kill him. It's so unfair. I think the nice thing to do is not have anyone give you away. See the film Last Chance Harvey to get the rejected father's perspective. Heartbreaking.

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    • I'm sorry Soozie, but I don't agree with you.

      If your boyfriend hasn't been a part of his daughter's life, whether by choice or simply because he felt it would cause too much drama to fight for any sort of custody, then he needs to respect his daughter's decisions. Especially if he really loves her.

      I'm sure he would want his daughter to be happy, even at his own expense. That is what a parent does.

      20 agree
  21. Hibyrd — great suggestion :) I'll definitely have to try it once I get up the nerve.

    Alison — I did not know that — good to know! I'm not Jewish, though, so unfortunately that won't really help me in terms of breaking it to the in-laws. But it might be a good reference. Thanks. :)

    1 agrees
  22. Jess, we're not Jewish, but it didn't stop us from using a Jewish tradition in our wedding — in our case, we went on a Yichud walk immediately after our ceremony.

    It's easy to say, "After doing some research about weddings, I was really inspired by the Jewish tradition of having both parents walking me down the aisle!"

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  23. I used an avoidance route for this one. Not wanting to offend my father since we're actually talking now, but still not close, I've just avoided all the father/daughter situations.

    I'm pulling the feminist card for walking myself down the aisle, though with my small venue there may not even be an aisle.

    Small venue with no dance space also eliminates the need for parental dances, especially since we're not sure that the future hubbys mom will show.

    I really wanted my "other dad" to walk me down the aisle (I call him dad and see him more often. His wife is best friends with his wife and I've always thought of their kids as my sibling). It wasn't worth the drama it would cause though.

    We've actually avoided alot of drama by not having anyone involved in the ceremony besides us and the minister. Our mantra: "piss off everyone a little bit instead of a few people a lot."

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  24. Haha that should say his wife is best friends with my mom… why is there no edit on here!?

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  25. In my perfect world, we'd have both our parents walk both of us down the aisle.

    But while my parents would be alright, his parents are divorced and hostile towards each other, so we are back to the drawing board. :/

    1 agrees
    • I'm in a similar situation, both our parents are divorced. My fiance's father died a few years ago and his mom is remarried, but he's not nearly as close to his stepfather he was with his bio-Dad. My parents have been involved in nasty litigation against each other for several years now and my dad has remarried a woman who wants nothing to do with me or my siblings. The weddings' over a year away, but I'm sure we'll figure something out. I'm leaning towards us walking each other down the aisle, through out our relationship we've always supported each other through our family drama (despite the fact we love our fam dearly). I'm trying to find other ways to have our parents and his stepfather feel included.

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  26. Ariel: Good point, but I meant it more in terms of trying to explain the reasoning to the parents. Citing Jewish tradition wouldn't really be truthful — I want it because I want to symbolize equality and the unity of two families (which I imagine would be the reasoning in the Jewish tradition also), but not because I saw it in a Jewish ceremony and liked it. But like I said, it might be a good reference when explaining why we want that in our own ceremony (which will be a traditional religious [Christian] one, for reference).

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  27. But I am thankful for Offbeat Bride, even though I want something more traditional — it encourages me to push the boundaries on the symbolism that is important to me. Like gender-neutral vows and a mutual giveaway.

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  28. I wanted to walk down the aisle with my fiance rather than with my parents or father. This went down amazingly and spectacularly badly. I can't emphasize enough how poorly it was received, particularly by my mother.
    The result? My father's walking me alone.

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  29. Oh, Julie. I'm so sorry to hear that your discussion with your parents was so poorly received. Depending on how long it is until the wedding, could you reapproach the issue with them?

    I'm going through this a bit right now with my parents. In short, my father hasn't been support of me or my marriage, and I don't want him walking me down the aisle. I know it's a topic that will have to be discussed with him more than once, and I imagine the same might be true of your father…

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  30. I just got married and dealt with this. My father was NOT walking me down the aisle after all our less than spectacular history. I went through all sorts of options – grandfather, both grandfathers, mom, myself, good friends… At first I felt like it was super important to have someone there to support me and represent family and community, but in the end I was just too conflicted about choosing someone and decided to walk by myself. My family and friends surrounding me were support enough, and it felt just fine.

    We also didn't do any traditional dances, nor the traditional family photos. Just a few group shots and that was good enough.

    1 agrees
  31. @PDXKate. How did that go!?! I actually would like both of my parents to walk me down the aisle because when I was married before I didn't have anyone do it and he was PISSED. They got divorced about what 5 or 6 years ago and it's gone badly since then. Ridiculous is a theme for my family. Any tips on making it less so?

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  32. I was fretting this very thing and it wound up coming up in conversation so I didn't have to bring it up. Unfortunately for me, my dad didn't take the news so well and got a bit snarky with me, suggesting that my mother (who is walking me down the aisle) could take his place in the photos and the father-daughter dance, too. Ouch, Dad.

    I'm putting off telling him that he's sharing me during the father-daughter dance (with my former and current stepdads) for fear his head might explode.

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  33. I love that you posted this. My uncle pretty much raised me and will be the one walking me down the aisle. My dad and I have reconnected and I do want him to be apart of the wedding, but just not as the man to give me away. Instead he is going to be the one officiating the wedding. This will mean more to me, and I hope he understands.

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  34. I have just had the same situation. I went softly as i was raised by my aunt and uncle (who have both passed away). I chose their son to walk me down the aisle instead. He was always there for me. I don't think being harsh is fair. Fathers have feelings too. As much as i haven't had a great relasionship with my bio dad, gently was the way to go. He wasn't happy, asked me to leave because not only did i tell me he wouldn't be walking me down the aisle but my sisters wouldn't be bridesmaids either. I think i have finished whatever communication we had. Giving them another job is nearly as second insult. You are better not having them involved at all. No matter what the circumstances, it is a hard thing to do and is harder for the father to accept so all brides to be in this situation. Accept your bio dad to be upset but remember don't do it as a punishment you will regret that. Make this decision because their really is someone who deserves it better and you know in your heart to be true. The implications of this decision can have a life long result. I am happy in my decision but don't make it out of pain or anger. You won't make the right decision. Chin up brides.

    1 agrees
  35. Well, I'm married now, and I'm glad Clayton walked me. I was so happy to be finally getting married I was crying on my way down the aisle. He very calmly whispered 'Ellie – nuns in bikini's!' I laughed, and managed not to spoil my makeup. And most importantly, I felt so very honored to have the man who made such a huge contribution to my life give me away. I don't think it would have been at all the same if my dad had been the one to do it.

    As for my dad… he didn't come. He said it was lack of money, and it could have been, easily. I hope I haven't killed out relationship forever, but if I have… well, there wasn't much left to kill, sadly. Hopefully he'll forgive me someday.

    14 agree
  36. omfg THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for posting this! For YEARS I have been dreading this exact conversation with my father… except I am having my mother walk me. This has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders! I am going to simply assign him another job of some importance and leave it as that. I hope (fingers crossed) it won't hurt his feelings too badly and another job will ease the tension I *know* it will cause. THANK YOU!

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  37. I'm going through a similar situation. My parents divorced when I was young, and I have an amazing stepdad who played a really huge role in raising me. I'm very fortunate to have great relationships with both of my Dads, but I'm still terrified to tell my biological Dad that he's sharing me as we walk down the aisle. For the Father/Daughter dance I'm taking a different approach- I'll dance with my father, and then a little later in the reception, have all of the fathers/daughters in attendance join my stepdad and I as we dance.

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  38. Thank you for this. I am close to being engaged and starting to think about the actual wedding. I've known for while that my dad will not be walking me down the aisle. For me, it really is about feminist reasons: I am not property to be given away. I am also independent in nature, which my dad himself has acknowledged. Having my parents walk me down the aisle still seemed not-quite-right. Now that I am getting to planning it there probably will not really be an aisle, which will help. But I know my dad will still be disappointed. We have occasionally had a rocky relationship and this helped remind me that I have to be careful to ensure that he knows the positive aspects of my reasoning and knows it is not about him, it is about me.

    1 agrees
  39. This article was very insightful. I just happen to have had…technically 3 fathers, and I've yet to decide if I want my current step-father to walk me, or my grandpa! My bio-dad was never married to my mom 'cause she had me when she was 19. >.> And now she's been married…almost 10 years now to my current step-dad. He's a great guy and I have a lot in common with him, but he insults my fiance whenever he's around. Now, my grandpa is my last resort, because he was the #1 father-like figure I had growing up.
    My decision is still void, and I'll probably wait until the last minute, because I hate to make decisions…
    But I know I'll figure it out eventually. ^^

    1 agrees

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