I never thought I’d get a wedding dance with my alcoholic father. But after more than 20 years, I’m letting myself dream.
Lately, I’ve felt like Katherine Heigl in "27 Dresses" — closets overflowing with bridesmaids dresses, and weddings every month.
But as I stand next to my best friends at their weddings, I’m rarely watching the bride. Instead, I love to watch the father of the bride walk his little girl down the aisle to give her away.
Honestly, Dad, for so many years I wasn’t sure we would ever have that moment together.
Growing up as the daughter of an addict, I felt too afraid to invite you to big events because I thought you’d show up three sheets to the wind and forget the alphabet.
In that moment when everyone stands on their tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the bride and her father, I used to hold my breath and sometimes turn away.
Like turning my head when a nurse draws blood, I couldn’t stomach watching their pure joy. I guess it’s pretty textbook “Alcoholic Father,” but I pictured you divorced and passed out on a couch in some crappy apartment with an address I would refuse to write on an invitation. In my imagination, I would resort to walking myself down the aisle. Alone.
Now that you’re sober, I like to watch those dads walk their daughters down the aisle because I know we will have our moment.
I know you’ll be there. I cry when I watch my friends dance with their “Daddy” in the father-daughter dance, but mostly I smile with the excited kind of butterflies. I can’t wait for our dance.
For so long, I never let myself dream of you sober on my wedding day, but now I can give myself permission.
You’ll hold me close and whisper something in my ear like, “You’ll always be my little girl” before we swallow those lumps and embrace the ugly cry.
You’ll lift my lacy white veil from my face and kiss me goodbye. We will dance to our song, "Butterfly Kisses," and I’ll get to remind you of how proud I am — how proud I am that all of you will be there to give me away on my big day.
I know it’s usually the father saying to his daughter, “I’m so proud of who you’ve become.”
But, on Father’s Day this year, and at my wedding someday, I’ll say it to you: Dad, I’m so proud of the man you’ve become. You’ve devoted your entire life to recovery. You fought to keep your family. You showed us the strength and determination we knew you had buried inside of you.
Please forgive me for taking a while to learn how to trust you again.
I’ve never known this kind of love that drives out fear. For a lot of years, I couldn’t come to you for advice or help, and it might take some time to accept this joy that steals my heart away.
Every night, I pray that your sobriety will stick around. I know it’s an ongoing journey that we’ll both keep stumbling down. There are a lot of people out there who are going through the same struggle.
Let’s show the people still stuck in the darkest pits of addiction that there’s actually hope for a beautiful future. We know it isn’t easy, but it’s possible.
There’s something else I want to say, before the day is done: I’m sorry, Dad.
I’m sorry for all the years that I wished Mom would just sign those divorce papers. I even wrote a book called “Closing the Door.” But I just didn’t see any way out.
It felt like life played some kind of sick "Groundhog Day" joke where we kept waking up to the same dark day over and over again. I forgot how to breathe.
Somehow, we all stuck together as a family and learned, eventually, how to set a dinner table for four.
So when the time comes for you to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, I’m thankful you’ll get to sit with Mom in the front row.
You’ve taught me what true love looks like, fighting through all the fumbling and touchdown moments of marriage.
You’ve shown me exactly what it means to uphold your wedding vows: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
I vow to keep learning to love you through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful moments of being your daughter. And I can’t wait for that DJ to announce: “Please turn your attention to the center of the dance floor. The bride and her father will now have their special dance.”