Father-in-Law Didn’t Attend Our Wedding

Reader’s Question

After attending religious pre-marital classes with our local pastor for 13 weeks, he asked a question he had asked us many times over the months, “Had we set a date”?

My wife looked at me and said “What about next week”? and what started out as a simple ceremony became more and more involved. I had spoken to my father-in-law about marrying his daughter a year before so it wasn’t a complete surprise. We offered to fly both my wife’s parents in from out of town but only my wife’s mother came to the wedding. Her father said he couldn’t come because he needed to make sure the furnace had coal being it was the middle of winter, even though there were many people he could have had take care of that.

We have been happily married for 3 years and recently my father-in-law made a comment to my wife that it was her fault he wasn’t at our wedding because we should have been willing to postpone the wedding a month or so until the weather warmed and then he could have attended.

How common is it for a father not to attend his daughter’s wedding and what do you make of my father-in-law?

Psychologist’s Reply

Q: Your father-in-law didn’t attend the wedding for his personal reasons. When we plan a wedding, as you describe, the ceremony can quickly move from simple to very complex and involved. In the middle of all the wedding events and planning, the bride and groom often don’t recognize the social, emotional, or financial requirements for those attending the ceremony.

Your father-in-law didn’t attend for his own, very personal reasons. He may be fearful of flying, doesn’t feel socially skilled or comfortable in such events, may have medical reasons, may have worried about the finances involved, or he may have been too embarrassed to tell the truth about why he didn’t attend. Like most people who invent excuses — coal for the furnace — it’s a silly excuse…but he needed that excuse. I would recommend allowing him to keep it.

For the rest of your happy marriage, your father-in-law will always use that excuse when the wedding is discussed. He needs that excuse to protect his self-esteem. I’d recommend using a funny response for his excuse such as “You’re right…we should have waited…but Love doesn’t wait for a change of seasons or a furnace!” You may never know the real reason he didn’t attend but I suspect it has something to do with his level of social comfort or sophistication. Many parents don’t attend graduation ceremonies for their college sons and daughters because they are intimidated by the university setting, fears of traffic/parking, not having proper attire, etc.

While the situation will always be there and can’t be changed, you can allow him to retain his dignity and avoid embarrassment by accepting his excuse, making the discussion comfortable, and adding it to the list of memories in your happy marriage. You and your wife can use the excuse as a funny memory as when planning a trip, you can ask “Do we have coal for the furnace?”

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