'Not Inviting My Dad To My Wedding Was The Best Decision I Ever Made'
By Nikki Zimbler
As a little girl, I often pictured my wedding day. In my vision, I was wearing a purple dress and silver sneakers; there was a totally inappropriate rock track playing and my father was walking me down the aisle, his eyes brimming with tears and his face filled with pride. I was daddy's little girl and he was my hero.
In reality, I got married in June and my father had no idea the ceremony was even happening. I had cut him out of my life following decades of terrible behaviour towards me. And I knew with complete and utter certainty that I had made one of the healthiest decisions of my life.
I was 14 when I asked my father if he was having an affair. He'd been acting out of character, including humiliating my mother by leaving his surprise 40th birthday party to check on his "sick" secretary. He swore that he wasn't being unfaithful. I told him that if he were lying, I would never forgive him. So when my mother sat me down four months later to tell me of his infidelities, I simply replied, "I know".
What followed was an all-too-typical marriage break-up, but with the sickening twist that he told all of his relatives that my mum was the one who'd cheated. And just like that, they disowned her, my brother and me.
That was just one of the many heart-breaking, vile, and unforgivable things that he did to assign blame to anyone but himself. As a teenager, I was completely lost, and I reacted with rage. My anger began to define me - I shut down, trusted no one and threw myself into a lifestyle of drinking, smoking and anything I could to numb the pain.
As a husband, he had failed, but as a father, I naively thought he would step up, behave morally and continue to support our upbringing. But he declared bankruptcy, and the closest thing I got to child support was a cheque in the post for £16 on my 16th birthday. I can still vividly remember ripping it up without a moment's hesitation.
He tried to mend our fractured relationship every so often, but each time he would simply unload new lies and blame different people. Not once did he apologise for a thing - it was bewildering to me and I would leave each meeting with a head full of stories that I would then have to process and unravel. Needless to say, I was a mess each and every time.
He remarried and I was a stepdaughter and stepsister to a family I didn't want to know. They seemed like lovely people and I yearned to tell them how narcissistic and damaging this man was. But they looked at him with love and acceptance, and who was I to burst that bubble?
With sad predictability, he ruined their lives too and moved on to the third unsuspecting wife-to-be. Two months before their wedding day, he called with promises of mending what was broken between us - the calls kept coming and slowly, I started to believe that a tenth of what he was saying may be true. So with a tiny sense of hope, I attended the wedding and smiled for the photos. He hugged me tightly at the end of that day, told me he loved me and promised to call me after his honeymoon.
The call was horrific. He told me he'd done a lot of thinking and concluded that I needed help and to call him when I was better. All of those promises and that false hope had just been to trick me to attend the wedding and behave in front of his new family. My last ever words to him were "Don't hold your breath". That was 18 years ago.
The mixture of emotions was immediate - rage, betrayal, and shock flooded my body. I went into a dark, dark place and the internal battle that followed was messy. Had I made the wrong choice by cutting him out of my life? I was lost, confused and had a constant pain in my stomach. What had I done?
Most of my family and friends told me I would regret my choice, but deep down I didn't believe them. The guilt took about a year to leave, clinging on for longer than expected. Every time a family member would pose a question like "How would you feel if he dies?" I would wrestle with my conscience for ages.
Friends who had lost a parent berated me - one of them had a full-on meltdown in the middle of a pub, calling me selfish, ungrateful and heartless. What they would only give for five precious minutes with their loved one! I hated myself for causing them such pain but their anger eventually subsided as they saw a happier me.
Each day without his toxicity, I grew stronger, calmer and more confident. Eventually, the self-loathing and feelings of regret completely faded and were replaced with a reassurance that the decision I had made was healthy and positive.
They too were being guilted into holding on to a blood relative out of a sense of duty, but to me, blood isn't thicker than water when that blood is poisonous.
Carla Rose, LCSWR, is a psychotherapist specialising in mental health counselling. She believes "it is healthier to distance oneself from a toxic family member than to try and pretend everything is ok." She goes on to say, "We don't choose our family, we are born into it. Why would we allow negative energy from family that we wouldn't tolerate from people we choose to be around?"
Whilst this was the hardest decision of my life, I know that the alternative would have been so much worse - decades of toxicity would have crushed me and turned me into a person filled with pain, anger and resentment.
As I walked down the aisle in June, I paused for a fleeting moment to acknowledge his absence and then moved forward with my head held high.
Featured Image Credit: Nikki Zimbler