Sitting in the wooden pews of a stain-glass windowed church, I rose to my feet as the bride walked down the aisle. Draped in bright white, she looked stunning. But as she approached the altar, I reflexively cringed at the first words said by the officiant.
“Who gives this woman to this man?” asked the priest. Her father answered and she joined her groom. But for the rest ceremony, I couldn’t untangle those words from my mind.
This was a few months before my own wedding in which so far, I had nobody in place to give me away. Anxiously, I considered various friends and even my 4-year-old nephew to walk me down the aisle, but eventually, I realized I wanted to do the walk alone. As a feminist, I have a problem with the idea that anyone besides myself could give me away.
My parents and I have little to no relationship, and asking my dad to walk me down the aisle not only felt uncomfortable but seemed wrong. My childhood was less than idyllic, filled with emotional and verbal abuse. Since I was 19 years old, I’ve lived on my own and supported myself fully.
Before officially deciding to walk alone down the aisle, I knew I wanted a wedding that mirrored my and my fiancé’s actual life instead of getting caught up in the trappings of tradition. Additionally, the sexism in our culture somehow dismisses men from being offered up, which seems incredibly misogynistic. So after waiting nervously with a friend before I stepped out to walk down the aisle, I gave myself away to my sweet fiancé.
For those of us with damaged, absent or dysfunctional relationships with our fathers (and there are a lot of us), this small part of the wedding ceremony can feel oppressive and even a little painful. More than 23 percent of U.S. children (17.4 million) lived in homes without fathers in 2014. Assuming half of that number are girls, there are going to be a whole lot of brides diverting from the status quo in the coming years.
Numerous studies have shown the importance of active fathers in the lives of children. But I’d like to contend that there is something between totally absent and active fatherhood. My dad lived in my home while growing up, he attended my track meets and would sometimes help with homework projects. While he’d show up from time to time for my two sisters and me, he’d also regularly disappear and often transform into a ticking time bomb.
Throughout my childhood, he’d say he was going off to the store and be gone for several hours, coming home with nothing but a bag of Reese’s and a jug of milk. In the middle of the night, he’d leave the house to do God knows what. If something set him off, he’d spew hateful and cruel words at the rest of us.
Numerous memories haunt me to this day. One night, during a rare family dinner, I said something sassy and he tossed me out the front door. He came back a moment later and chucked a handful of quarters at me and instructed me to “call someone who cared” as I sobbed uncontrollably outside. I was 9 years old and the look of disgust on his face still sends chills down my spine.
After my parents kicked my sister and me out of their house, we found an apartment together and started working full time. To get through college, I worked in a law office during the day, filing stacks of legal papers and at night, I waited tables at the local California Pizza Kitchen. During this time, my parents and I only drifted further away as I learned to navigate adulthood and stand on my own.
For those women with healthy relationships to their fathers, I completely understand the desire to stroll down the aisle with their fathers. It can be awkward to face a crowd of people alone. But I think it’s worth considering that we do away with the whole “who gives this woman” thing because as women, we’ve fought hard for the agency to do that ourselves. We run countries, head Fortune 500 companies, visit outer space and win gold medals. I think we can handle a ceremony without those antiquated words.
Walking down the steps to the aisle before me, I felt confident and even a little powerful. Marrying my husband was entirely my choice and I was making that clear. My life was mine alone to give. Despite my hesitancy, I invited my parents to my wedding and watched them dance and laugh during the reception.
Today, my relationship with my dad is civil at best and not something I want to rekindle. Instead, I focus on the independence I’ve earned and the life that I fought for while slinging pizzas and putting myself through college. The truth is, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.