Within the set up of my blog, I have code installed so I can monitor the activity when I need to. One of the features includes the ability to see what search terms lead people to my blog. For instance, someone might type the words “vintage wedding photos” into Google or another search engine, and somewhere in the choices this post I wrote about collecting old wedding photos might come up. The person clicks the link to my blog and I can see that those words led them here.
Without fail, the two most common searches have been these phrases, or something close to them: “how to write a letter to my dad who cheated on my mom” which leads them here and “getting married- don’t want my father to walk me down the aisle at my wedding” which leads them here. I have such a heavy heart seeing those phrases pop up so often- from all over the world. So many people are experiencing similar pain; a pain I know all too well.
So for anyone tonight who has come to my blog based on these painful issues, let this be my letter to you:
To the child whose heart has been broken,
First, let me begin by saying that I am no expert on mending fences with a father that has somehow rejected, hurt, abused, or wounded you. I have only written, as honestly as I can, about my process of healing from what happened to me, and finding a way to make sense of my choices and my feelings based on what I have been through. I doubt my father and I will ever really reconcile or have anything I can call a relationship. In my case, that is the best outcome.
For those wondering how to write a letter to a cheating father…we each have our own stories. We each have our own set of circumstances. The letter I wrote here on my blog came long after writing several private letters years ago. These were letters that my therapist at the time asked me to write to my father and my mother. These letters were private, and weren’t intended to be mailed or emailed to my parents, unless I decided to, which I didn’t. But, they contained everything I wanted to say, everything I had ever wanted to say. They were brutal, painful letters. The act of writing those letters, which I then read to my therapist, was a healing process in itself. Just letting those things out, being so honest, leaving no detail or past act unturned was freeing. I didn’t feel I needed to mail them. They were written, and I honestly knew that neither of my parents would fully understand what they were reading, nor would they take any accountability for the content. Unfortunately, it is a mixture of illness, alcoholism, and denial that follows both in my family that makes that a reality. But I wrote those words, and said them out loud. I knew their meaning, and knew where the accountability belonged.
So, I recommend writing the letter(s) you need to write. Say what you need to say—all of it, everything. Don’t write it and send it immediately…that’s always a recipe for regret. Pore over it, study it-- make sure you are saying everything you want to say. Be as mad as you want to be, as hurt as you want to be. You can always edit later. Get it all out. Maybe have a trusted friend or therapist read it. And whatever your heart tells you, whatever the past dictates, do it. Mail it, save it, burn it, whatever helps you heal.
As I said in my blog post, men who are fathers who cheat always seem oblivious to the fact that you are not just cheating on your spouse (the mother of your children), but you are also cheating on your family- your children. It is not a singular crime. Whether you think they know or not—this act of deceit and betrayal will haunt them in some way, in some form one day. (This goes for women as mothers who cheat also—I just have a little more familiarity with the father’s acts on my end).
Now, for the women out there who are asking—Does my father have to walk me down the aisle? The answer is NO, absolutely not. Some women ask this question for different reasons—just preference, a break with traditional wedding ceremonies, etc. But the search terms I see suggest many women are asking that question for the same reason I did. I can only share my experience with this situation.
I struggled deeply with this decision. The only reason I struggled was because of my mother. She wanted my father to walk me down the aisle for the same reason she wants all of us home for Christmas, gathered around the tree, singing carols in matching sweaters while holding hands. She has a vision in her head of what we should be- what she wants so badly for us to be. It is something we are not- something we won’t ever be. I understand her denial is a coping mechanism, but for years and years of my life, I have done things for her that have hurt and deeply damaged me. I would go home for Christmas only to be kicked out by my father on Christmas Eve in a drunken rage. I would try to play the part of the youngest child in a perfect family for her, and I feel as though I lost years of my life in doing so.
I did those things because I hated to see her hurt. I hated that my mother didn’t have a life where she was married to a caring, doting husband, and where she wasn’t really loved or taken care of. I didn’t want to add to that pain. But here’s what’s real: those were her choices. No matter how the chips fell, she stayed with my father, and put me in painful places my whole life based on those choices.
The cycle has to be broken. I decided it would start with me and my wedding day. This was the first day of my new life- a healthy, whole life filled with a real love, an honest man, and my own choices. It had taken me too long to heal, to come out on the other side of all this. Having him escort me down the aisle felt like a huge step backward.
So that was the choice I made. My mother guilted, threatened, cried, and called constantly begging me to change my mind. She told me she knew my father wouldn’t come to the wedding because of my choice. She told me it would ruin the wedding for her. She told me she hated what people would be thinking. I stood strong. But I did cry many tears leading up to that day, remaining firm in my phone calls to her, but falling apart when I hung up the phone. I didn’t want to hurt her…I kept asking myself—was this one minute in my wedding that big of a deal? But you know what? It was.
It ended up being the best decision I could have made. My father did come to the wedding, my mother’s day wasn’t ruined, and although I know she was disappointed, she recovered. What did happen was a new understanding. I saw and felt something intrinsically change between me and my parents, especially my father. They both sensed something different—the old patterns and guilt weren’t working anymore. I was no longer acting the part, no longer caving to guilt and pressure. My father spoke to me in a quiet way that day. I can’t explain it, but I felt a power shift. It was a comforting power- the power of my own confidence, my own heart.
So, the most important thing I can say to those of you here for these reasons is…hang on, trust your heart, trust your gut, and believe in yourself and your choices. Therapy was a godsend for me—a life preserver thrown out to me in an ocean of damage and grief where I was drowning. Most of all, these search words prove to me that we aren’t alone out here—so many of us are dealing with this same pain, struggling with the same issues.
And while that doesn’t ease the pain completely, there are thousands of survival stories out there to lean on and hold in your heart for hope. Find them, read them, love yourself…and always, always, have hope.
The words of your broken heart will take you places--far away from where you started...
The artwork featured here, also entitled "Words of a Broken Heart", was created by Deborah Belasco. View this and more of her work here.