My Ex's Stalker Is Walking My Daughter Down the Aisle—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, About 20 years ago, I went through a very nasty marriage breakdown. My wife started an affair with her stalker. During the 20 months that I worked hard on saving my marriage and family of three daughters, I endured being stalked, many death threats to myself and to the children, and being humiliated at my place of work by this man.

I wanted to attend marriage counseling, but my wife declined to go, saying that he forbade it. This man showered my wife with gifts and sums of money, and told her that she and the children now belonged to him. My wife then told me that it was best for everyone if she just gave him what he wants.

For my well-being and my sanity, I had to walk away from my family. I lost my marriage, my family, my home, my career, my extended family and my friends. I suffered difficulties in eating and sleeping, I struggled with nightmares, panic attacks, loneliness and betrayal. My self-esteem and confidence were broken, my bank account was drained by my wife, I couldn't hold employment and I had difficulties making new friendships.

A bride and her dad walking downtheaisle
A stock image shows a bride and her dad walking down the aisle. Getty Images

I had very limited contact with my daughters, then about 15 years ago the two older girls got jobs during school holidays and stopped coming to see me, and my youngest daughter stopped visiting me at the same time, and then she stopped talking to me soon after that.

I have since been informed that this man did the same thing to his first wife and her husband and three daughters and that the husband broke down and was hospitalized.

One of my daughters has now announced her coming wedding and on discussing her plans with me I questioned my role and the attendance of this man. My daughter got very defensive with me telling me that he has been a big part of her life for the past 20 years whereas I have not been. She went on to say that she doesn't care what he did to me and doesn't want to know (I have not told her anything of what I went through).

I have been told that I am not walking the bride down the aisle and I am not giving the bride away, I am only a guest. These comments from my daughter have renewed the trauma I went through all those years back and that I may face more at the wedding.

I have recently remarried and have another daughter that my other three daughters do not acknowledge as their sister. I have a new family that I want to protect from this man and I want to avoid being traumatized all over again.

I want to be the dad for my daughter at her wedding but my well-being is also important as I fear being re-traumatized again in the company of this man.

What should I do?

Anonymous

Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

If You Decide Not To Attend, You Should Still Send A Gift And Heartfelt Card

Chloe Carmichael Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and the author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety as well as Dr. Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating. Her approach is goal-oriented and emphasizes reaching our fullest potential through a strengths-based approach.

Dear Anonymous,

First, let me commend your strength and bravery. The fact that you were not only able to survive the trauma you described but that you went on to find love and family again is amazing. I totally understand and respect your desire to protect yourself against further trauma.

Your daughter's assertion that you would be "just a guest" with no fatherly role at her wedding sounds very hurtful. It sounds like your position is that while you wouldn't normally go anyplace where you might encounter the stalker who made death threats against you, you would be willing to override that feeling because of your role as the bride's father—yet, if your daughter doesn't recognize this role and may even have the stalker perform typical fatherly duties such as walking her down the aisle, I can understand your confusion about how to proceed.

Is your new wife invited? If not, I can see where that would further discourage you from attending. If she is, would you feel better at least having her there as an extra source of support? Especially since your daughter has explicitly stated that she doesn't know or care what the stalker did to you and that she has no interest in recognizing you as her father in any part of the wedding ceremony or reception. I can understand why you would feel insecure about attending by yourself; and how you might question if it is really a pathway towards a healthy relationship with her. You mentioned that you have told your daughter nothing about the history with the stalker, presumably including the death threats. This means it's possible she might say that she doesn't know or care about what happened because she assumes it's just normal "sour grapes" stuff that often arises when a spouse remarries.

One idea would be to mention that there were death threats against you by the stalker, and ask if that causes her to become willing to learn and understand more about why you have questions about his potential role at the wedding. If she insists it does not matter to her, that may influence your willingness to sacrifice your own emotional well-being for someone who is so openly callous about yours. On the other hand, pressing her to have this conversation in the midst of her wedding plans might only make sense if there is a clear reason for you to know his role in advance—for example, if you had decided in advance that you could not bear to attend if the stalker were walking her down the aisle.

Once again, let me say that I can understand that you would fear being re-traumatized: according to you, the stalker essentially stole your family in a violent and abusive manner. Putting yourself in a position where you may potentially re-experience his having "replaced" your role in the family could be very difficult—especially if he is the one to walk your daughter down the aisle.

If you ultimately decide not to attend the wedding, I would encourage you to still send a gift and heartfelt card expressing your desire to connect in a lower-stakes environment.

You already know this, but I'll tell you anyway: there is no simple answer here. Whatever you decide, I urge you to draw close to your new wife. Spouses are supposed to support each other, and this may be an opportunity for you to finally experience a healthy marriage where your wife stands by you with the unwavering commitment you deserve.

You Need To Accept The Choices That Were Made In The Past Impact The Present

Dr. Bahjat Balbous, Psychiatrist at Euromed Clinic Dubai

Dear Anonymous,

From what you have detailed in your letter, it sounds as if you went through a horrendous amount of suffering in the past and I am so sorry for what you had to endure.

I applaud the work it must have taken for you to enable yourself to reintegrate into a social situation whereby you were able to discover how to trust again, develop relationships and put your faith in someone enough so that you were able to remarry her and have a family with your new wife. I am not surprised, however, that the current situation is reopening the old wounds and pain that you went through, as even in the most placid of families, weddings can be difficult to navigate at times and somewhat of an emotional roller coaster.

First of all, though it is easy for me to say, I would encourage you to try to put the past to bed. You talk about what this man did to his first wife and to be blunt, though it is contextual background, this is of no relevance to your current situation. I am not sure whether you went to therapy to deal with what happened, but this may be helpful now as it will give you coping mechanisms to deal with the situation. Therapy such as Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be great as it does not "fix" the problem, rather it promotes the idea that the problem is there and encourages you to embrace and accept it and find ways in which you can deal with it, without it being detrimental to your mental health.

I think you need to accept the choices that were made in the past impact the present—for instance, when it came to the decision you made about leaving your daughters and allowing this man to carve a strong father-like role in their lives. Perhaps with hindsight, you can realize that this will naturally have negatively impacted your relationships with them and allowed his relationship with them to grow.

The only reason I am mentioning this is to show you that the only use the past has for us is to allow us to reflect and put everything into perspective. Again, I would advocate that this is its only use and that actually there is no point dwelling on the past and pinpointing things that could have been done differently to enforce a difficult outcome—you are in the present, and this is what needs to be dealt with.

For whatever reason and however hard it may be, your three older daughters do not have the relationship with you that you desire—and they have, in fact, come to view their mother's second husband, the man who has caused you so much pain, as a defining force in their lives. As a parent, one of the most difficult things is to accept when our children make decisions that hurt us and still remain there for them. If you have any chance at salvaging a relationship with your engaged daughter and building a future in which she is a part, then you need to gracefully accept the decision she has made about her wedding—the fact you are invited is a spark of hope and I would encourage you to attend if at all possible—remember you will have your loving wife at your side.

Please view the invitation positively, as an olive branch upon which you could build something more substantial (even if that is not what it is meant to be!) I would also encourage you never to speak of the past to her unsolicited—it is not her burden to shoulder. Of course, your wife is someone to whom you can confide, but ensure that irrespective of how she feels about your older daughters, that she is always welcoming, cordial and kind to them.

Once the wedding is over, be brave and reach out to your daughter and try to establish a time when you could meet so she can fill you in on what's going on in her life. If she agrees to meet you, then this is a great starting point to reacquaint yourself with your child.

Use it to show her that no matter what happened in the past, you have moved on and still care about her life and love her unconditionally. It may take a couple of attempts before she agrees to meet but I would encourage you to put in the effort if you are serious about wanting her—and her sisters—to be part of your life. Perhaps then, over time, they will come to realize that you would be an asset to them in their future lives.