Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Dad at my wedding: I’m a woman marrying another woman this summer. My family knows nothing about it—my mom was very violent and threw me out when I came out at 15, and though I was allowed back into the house after a few days staying at a friend’s, it was on the understanding that we all pretend I was straight and nothing had happened. I have had extremely limited contact with my mom since leaving at 18, and we never talk about my personal life, just things like how relatives are doing and what job I’m at. My dad was always more supportive, though he did not come after me when my mom threw me out and went along with the policy of silence afterward to “keep the peace.” He’s met my fiancée a handful of times and is very supportive of LGBT rights in private with me and with his friends—just not with my mom, who acts like she doesn’t even know I’ve had a girlfriend for six years. I never told my dad when we got engaged because I feared he’d tell my mom—he has broken my confidence before—and that she would then find a way to threaten or harm me on the wedding day.
I was planning on simply letting my dad know I’d got married after the event and letting the chips fall where they may. But I am starting to feel very guilty about this, and like I am unfairly cutting my dad out because of his wife’s behavior. He always tells me how much he loves and supports me, and I know it will hurt him terribly to not be invited to his only child’s wedding. Should I give him a chance and invite him for the sake of preserving what relationship we have? This could ruin things between us. My partner says she’ll support whatever decision I make, but I know she thinks he shouldn’t come. What should I do?
A: I know you feel guilty at the prospect of telling your dad you’ve gotten married only after the fact, but let’s look first at what you’ve overlooked from his corner over the years: He watched your mom get violent with you and did nothing. He saw her throw you out of the house at 15 years old and did nothing. He keeps his support of your sexuality quiet and countenances homophobia around homophobic people like your mother. You believe that he would give your mother information she would use to threaten or hurt you, even if you asked him not to do so. You’re not “unfairly” cutting your father out because of his wife’s behavior—you’re acting reasonably and sanely based on his past behavior.
That doesn’t mean I think you should stop loving him or cut him out of your life; you have every right to accept your father’s limitations and maintain contact that feels meaningful, safe, and sustainable to you, even while declining to share information with him that you know he can’t handle because he’d share it with a woman who wants to hurt you. I believe that he loves you, but I do not believe he is capable of giving you meaningful support as long as he prioritizes his wife’s homophobia over your safety.
I think you should tell him about the wedding after the ceremony. If that’s what ruins things between you, not the fact that he failed to protect you when you were being hurt and neglected as a teenager, then I think that’s your father’s choice to hurt you, not the inevitable result of leaving him off the guest list.