My Dad Didn’t Walk Me Down the Aisle – and I Survived

Weddings are chocked full of two things: traditions and expectations.
But remember- it’s your day, and you get to make the decisions. No matter what traditions or expectations those decisions may defy. 

A few images come to mind when you hear the word “wedding” – yes, a stressed out bride trying to figure out a seating chart for the 150th time may be one of them, but we also tend to think of long, white dresses, first kisses and first dances, and walks down the aisle arm-in-arm with our fathers.

It’s a meaningful moment for brides with great dads – a symbolic rite of passage and a beautiful memory created between father and daughter.

But for a variety of reasons, many brides don’t have a good relationship (or any relationship) with their fathers. Some brides sadly lose their fathers before their weddings happen. Other brides feel that another figure in their lives – mothers, siblings, uncles, or grandparents – are better suited for that all-important walk. And some brides feel best walking down the aisle on their own.

While a father-daughter walk is steeped in tradition, it’s important to remember- this is your wedding. It’s your day. And you get to decide what traditions to follow or leave behind.

A (Not So Sweet) Precedent

As with most of the romanticized conventions of modern weddings, the idea of a father walking his daughter down the aisle wasn’t always a heartfelt gesture. The practice dates back a few years – to 1549, to be exact – when it was outlined in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. In the text, the question is asked “who giveth this this woman to be married to this man?” The minister then “receives the woman at her father or friends hands” (interesting to note that even back then, it didn’t have to be the father).

But before you start to think that this all sounds familiar, remember that at the time, women weren’t really thought of as individuals. “In Britain, as in many places, women had long been considered essentially the property of men, first their fathers and then their husbands,” notes Lily Rothman for Time Magazine. “The phrase “give away” suggests a lot about the woman’s role in this exchange from one man to another.” In those early days, weddings had two parts – the formal ceremony, followed by the bride’s transfer of custody from her father to her husband. Yep, you read that right –  a wife was under the custody of a man for her entire life.

A Tradition is Created…or is it?

Fast forward a few hundred years, and you’d find that not only fathers, but entire working class families didn’t even normally attend the weddings of their children! “They were expected to be at work,” Rothman says.

There are even instances of major historical figures that chose not to walk down the aisle with their fathers, and instead opted for other members of their families. In fact, Queen Victoria, who started the trend of brides wearing billowing white gowns, famously walked down the aisle with her uncle. Later in life, she walked her two of her daughters down the aisle herself.

More recent royals have also chosen to forego the tradition. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (aka Meghan Markle) walked the aisle with her new father-in-law, Prince Charles, when her own father’s health prevented him from doing the job.

So if history tells us anything about weddings, it’s that these time-honored traditions we hold so dear were actually broken a long time ago.

Image courtesy of Heartfelt Studio

Your Wedding, Your Choice

Now we get to your wedding.

You may decide that you don’t want your father to walk you down the aisle. Whatever your reasoning is, it’s valid. Everyone’s family situations are different, so you may want to talk your feelings over with a therapist or qualified mental health counselor. They can help you navigate what can be some emotionally taxing territory.

If your father has passed on, there are a multitude of ways to honor his impact on your life. Just because he isn’t here physically doesn’t mean he isn’t present in who you are today. Think about it – half of your genes come from him! As you walk down the aisle on your big day, you’ll carry a piece of him in every small cell in your body.

There may be another member of your family you’d like to choose, who was an important and loving figure in your life. If you want them to walk you down the aisle, they should! This would be a great opportunity to tell (and show) them how much they mean to you.

Even still, you may decide that you’d like to walk on your own. What better way to honor your strength, tenacity, and beauty than by taking that walk solo. Plus, let’s be real – all eyes are going to be on you anyway, so who needs the extra distraction?

And remember – not every moment of your ceremony has to be straight laced and formal if you don’t want it to be. Honor your personality and style! Maybe it’s time to add your own touch to your walk, like this couple did:

Your wedding is not about traditions, upholding anyone’s expectations, or compromising on what you feel comfortable with so your family and friends are happy. It’s about one thing, and one thing only – celebrating the love you and your fiancé share as you embark on your lives together. And no matter who walks – or doesn’t walk – you down the aisle, your wedding day will be meaningful and beautiful.