The impending wedding can bring up all kinds of emotions and pain. Your daughter has not just her parents to handle through the process, but perhaps stepparents as well. Her mom and dad have a lot to communicate about, and they may not even be on speaking terms. Her parents' failed marriage may result in lots of feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. And then there is the whole etiquette thing--who sits by whom, who dances at the reception with whom, who toasts and speaks? And her dad often feels stuck right in the crossfire of all these issues.
So, what is a divorced dad to do? How does he balance his feelings with those of his daughter, his ex-wife, and perhaps her new significant other or his? Here are some tips from dads who have learned from their experience, as well as some thoughts from daughters who have lived through such a wedding experience.
Remember, it is her day. This wedding planning and execution experience is all about her, and not at all about you or your ex. Both of you need to marginalize your feelings for the sake of your daughter. For example, no matter how you feel about marriage, you can't disparage it. No snide comments to your daughter or her young man about what they are getting themselves into.
Taking the high road will pay off. Particularly if you and your ex are at odds most of the time, the stress of a wedding will tend to strain whatever is left of your relationship. Experience teaches that for the most part, if you set aside your negative feelings, and communicate and cooperate, your relationship with your daughter will improve. Try to stay out of arguments and avoid being defensive.
Remember to focus on the future. Your daughter's wedding plans are all about her dreams of the future. You will be tempted to dwell on the past, and if you do, you will regret it. Keep thinking about her future and stay positive. Retreating into old issues or ancient stories in your life will not be a good thing to do for any of you.
Talk early and often. Stay in the loop on the wedding plans and keep lines of communication open with your daughter and her mom. Generally speaking, the more communication, the better.
Don't make a big deal about your daughter's stepdad. In many ways, it will be as tough for him as it is for you, although in different ways. Again, keep your feelings to yourself about his involvement. Particularly if you have been divorced for a long time, she may have divided loyalties between these two dads in her life. So be gracious and share some of the fatherly duties with him if your daughter wants you to. In any case, you should definitely follow your daughter's lead.
What about sitting with your ex? Wedding etiquette often suggests that it is important for a bride's parents to be sitting together, even if they are not married. However, it is more important to keep peace and not make a scene than it is to follow wedding etiquette to a tee. For example, rather than having mom and dad sit together at the head table at a wedding luncheon, consider putting just the bride and groom at a head table (or at a small "sweetheart table" in the middle of the room with parents seated at nearby tables with their own spouses). At the wedding ceremony, you can put her mom and her partner near the center aisle on the front row, and you can sit at the other end. Try to be creative to find ways to keep things polite and cordial.
What about your new partner? If you have remarried or you have a significant other, you will find yourself as the one having divided loyalties. As other dads have said, the best way to handle this is to remember that you are first your daughter's dad. Again, help your partner understand that you will do what is necessary for your daughter to have a wedding that is peaceful and cordial. Hopefully, you picked a woman who can handle that. If not, it would be better to pay the price with your partner and leave her home than to have a confrontation or a scene at the wedding.
Prepare for the traditions. At every wedding, there are some traditional moments. Moments like walking down the aisle, toasting the new couple or the daddy-daughter dance can be a wonderful memory or a painful experience. If you give a speech or a toast, make sure to keep it positive and focused on your daughter and her future. No reason here to bring up old stuff ("I hope you will be happier than your mother and I were" is a bad idea). For the dance experience, you can hope your daughter will want to have one, but be flexible. She may want to dance with both you and her stepfather or just one or the other. Don't make a big deal about either choice; just support her in however she wants to handle it.
These general guidelines are just that--general. They will not fit every circumstance. For example, if you or your ex had an affair that led to divorce and the paramour is now married to one of you, all bets are probably off. But the best general rule is to be sensitive to your daughter's desires and sensitive to her feelings. Putting her first throughout the process, whatever the price, and making sure she knows you love and respect her, will be the best thing for all concerned.