How to tell dad that another man is walking you down the aisle
Thanks to Jenna for uploading this to the Flickr pool | Photo by Keira Lemonis
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*

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

  1. I guess I’m wondering why an announcement has to be made at all? With everyone involved in my wedding, I am telling them what role I would like them to play and asking them for the honor of playing that role. It never occurred to me to announce to people what role they are NOT playing. I have a biological father who I don’t keep in contact with, whom I will likely never see again and who will probably never meet my fiance much less come to my wedding, a step dad who raised me until age 14, who will be attending, along with his wife (his daughter, my half-sister is my MOH), and the man who adopted me as a teenager and is contributing, financially, in part to my wedding, who will be walking me down the aisle. I have not told the two men who aren’t walking me down the aisle that they will not be doing so and I’m certain they will figure it out when I come down the aisle with someone else. If they bring it up, I’ll simply say that “Jim is going to be walking me down the aisle.” It’s nobody’s business why. I took the same philosophy with my bridesmaids. There are two girls I didn’t choose who seem upset by this but I never told them they weren’t chosen, nor did I make an announcement of who I did choose. One of them asked who my bridesmaids are, I told her, and that was that. If she wants to discuss it further, she can bring it up and I’m happy to talk about it. This may seem cold but it’s not my place to assume what others feel/think and it’s nobody else’s place to make assumptions about whom I should honor at my wedding. I just think it hurts more to reject someone with a big announcement and a bunch of reasons why.

    • Writing this piece, my assumption was that Ellie was anticipating being asked about it by her father.

  2. I’m in somewhat of a similar situation, but it’s slightly different so the advice given doesn’t really fit. My parents divorced when I was in high school. Dad wasn’t really present in my childhood and after they were divorced mom had a hard time getting him to take us for his visitation every other weekend. Despite this, I really feel for my dad and I do care about him. My sister still had him walk her down the aisle, just because she didn’t want to have the awkward conversation telling him he wasn’t. It is very important to me to have my mom give me away, because she is the parent that raised me and made me the person I am. I thought about having both mom and dad walk me down, and I may still do so, but ultimately it would mean a lot to me to have my mom do it. (Also parents aren’t really on good terms so I feel like that might cause problems anyways.) Any advice on how to break the news to dad? Like I said, I don’t want him to feel bad or start a fight over it. Multiple people have told me dad will assume he’s doing it (especially because he walked my sister down) so I guess another question is do I even have to tell him? and what do I tell him if he asks? I feel like it might be more awkward to have him show up expecting to do it than to break it to him ahead of time.

  3. I chose a very matter of fact approach to the subject and included my dad in the father daughter dance. “Grandpa’s going to walk me down the isle, Dad. Do you want to help pick the song you and I dance to for the father-daughter dance?” The conversation ended up much more casual than I had feared.

  4. I’m in a similar dilemma. My step father and I have never gotten along. He also used to spank me pretty bad when I was younger and thinking of it makes me sad. My bio dad was completely gone for most of my life. I’ve talked with my step dad and we’ve made amends. He is a different man is his older age and we are pretty close now. I found my bio dad and we’ve also become very close. He comes to my apartment regularly and helps me out financially and supportively a lot. My mom is not supportive of me getting to know my father. She sometimes talks bad about him in front of me and talks about my stepmom who is probably the kindest woman I know. I want both of my dads to walk me down the aisle. I know that my stepdad can be kind of emotional though and he hates my bio dad with a passion so I don’t think he’ll be too happy with this.

    TL;DR: In summary, my parents are kind of childish and I don’t think they’ll agree with having my bio dad included in the walking down the aisle because of personal vendettas.

  5. My father has been absent for much of my life, downright abusive through a lot of it and has shown no interest in the wedding whatsoever. He’s refused to come to the reception and at one point threatened not to come to the wedding at all. He basically had to be talked into it by another family member. It’s been the one horrible, stressful aspect of planning the wedding and (as supportive as people have been) really isolating too; a lot of people around me are engaged/imminently getting married and it’s difficult to see their fathers clearly excited and doting on them and then look at my own situation.

    Needless to say, I have never envisioned him giving me away. My mother is my best friend and has raised me pretty much single-handedly. If I was going to have anyone give me away, it was always going to be her.

    When my father asked me who was giving me away, I just told him straight up ‘I’ve asked Mom to do it.’ If he did follow it with anything further, I was more than prepared to do what this article suggests and which I think is great advice: give positive things about the person you DO intend to give you away, but no negatives about your dad, even if you have lots. If the person still gets rude/passive-aggressive/guilt-trippy, be prepared to say ‘I’ve explained my reasons and I no longer want to have this conversation.’ However, try not to take the bait, as tempting as it is. It can get really ugly and it will throw a really negative light on the whole process of planning.

    Mercifully, I didn’t have to do that, as my father didn’t say anything. I don’t know if that’s because he fell into the camp of relieved or not, but I’m not going to worry about it too much. Instead, I’m eagerly looking forward to the big day and having someone who’s always been there for me by my side as I walk down the aisle.

  6. My sister in law had her grandfather walk her down the aisle (he was in a wheelchair so her mother pushed it) because her parents had also divorced when she was young and her grandfather was her father figure. She was actually estranged from her real dad until my brother coaxed her into talked with him and they visit regularly now. I don’t think he ever expected to be a part of the wedding but he and his wife attened as guests. My other sister in law lost her father when she was 11, so her grandfather (who is blind) walked her along with her mother to help guide him. I told my own father that I could walk alone, not because he was out of my life, but because he has an extremely difficult time walking and I wanted to take some pressure off him. He got mad about that, I guess because I am the oldest daughter and he wants to he involved. I decided it wasn’t a battle to have, but he might be unable walk much by the wedding next year so we will see.

  7. Need some feedback on a little different twist. How about the bride who selects her grandfather (mom’s dad) to walk down the aisle because bio-dad was not ‘good enough’. Early divorce and most time spent with mom and grandparents. Dad did the best he had the capacity for: Paid child support, shared custody every other weekend and 2 weeknights, attended events, participated in sports, etc. He couldn’t afford many extras – vacations were limited to visiting his family, while grandparents were more indulgent. Bride had the ex call dad to tell him he ‘wouldn’t be walking her down the aisle or any part of the wedding party’, but of course, daughter wants him to be there. No explanation, so dad is left wondering where he went wrong or what he did to warrant this choice. She appears to enjoy her time with dad on the times she comes over for dinners/holidays, etc – lots of laughs and warmth, but not a lot of depth. She is the apple of his eye.
    Looking at this objectively, it seems like a semi-public action to ‘punish’ dad. He is left not wanting to miss the opportunity of a lifetime to see his beautiful daughter on such an important occasion for her, yet also having to cope with the pain in a public forum. Both dad and daughter share the trait of not wanting to have difficult conversations, but hoping they come together to start mending some broken fences. My thought is that she made her adult choice, and he can do the same. If it means he can’t bear attending the wedding, that is as acceptable as her choice to exclude him from his role as her father.
    Thanks for any pearls of wisdom you can send our way!

  8. I wish I had seen this article back when I was planning my first wedding in 2013. I still came up with the overall concept of “emphasize why chosen escort person is important to you”, but in a verbose and delayed kind of way. I have a bio-dad and a step-dad. But I’m not especially close to either, so I wanted to have my brother walk me instead. Well, I say I wanted that, but what I really wanted was to walk down alone. My brother is someone I’ve always looked up to though and I figured that he’d be somewhat of a representative of both dads (and therefore a good compromise). My brother actually asked me who was walking me down the aisle before I had a chance to ask him. When I did ask him, he said he would do it but he didn’t feel like it was his place.

    Then my bio-dad asked about it and I said I had chosen my brother. He felt slighted and wanted me to change my mind. I think my mom heard enough of my woes on the subject to warn my step-dad to let me figure it out first, because he didn’t actually ask me about it. Clearly I waited too late to communicate to others what level of involvement I wanted them to have (save yourselves, learn from my mistakes: decide early and communicate your decisions).

    I ended up writing a letter to all three explaining my reasoning. I did offer to have my dads fulfill another role in my wedding (readings during the ceremony) and to have 2 father/daughter dances (one with each) and my brother did walk me down the aisle. In the end, there was really only drama on the planning side of the process. Once we got to the actual wedding everyone was happy (or kept their unhappiness to themselves) and I didn’t really hear about it after, so it must have been a satisfactory solution for everyone. And I got to have a moment with my brother before walking down the aisle that I still cherish (he had just recognized my harpist playing Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters).

    Overall lesson if you’ve read this far: make decisions that feel right in your gut, communicate better than I did, and keep in your back pocket the knowledge that it’s ultimately just one day and everything will be okay in the end.

    Now to see how they take the news that this time I’m walking by myself. Wish me luck!

    • I love that you came back to this post all these years later!! Thank you so much for sharing your overall lesson… best of luck & love.

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