Why One Family’s Viral Wedding Story Still Hits Home

© Dustin Franz for The New York Times From left, Todd Bachman, his daughter, Brittany Peck, and her stepfather, Todd Cendrosky, at Mr. Bachman’s home in Ohio.
© Dustin Franz for The New York Times From left, Todd Bachman, his daughter, Brittany Peck, and her stepfather, Todd Cendrosky, at Mr. Bachman’s home in Ohio.

Brittany Peck wasn’t planning on people around the world sharing in her wedding day. But that was before a photographer captured the moment on Sept. 26, when her father reached for the hand of her stepfather to include him in the bride’s walk down the aisle. 

“I was behind the tree,” Mrs. Peck said, “and it was actually hard for me to see. But I heard. I heard people sobbing. Everyone was crying.”

That single, unexpected gesture within a stepfamily, after years of contentious custody battles and ensuing years of slow healing, has unleashed a tidal wave of emotion worldwide on social media, the good, bad, sad and joyful.

Janet Schrager, a Connecticut clinical psychologist who works with high-conflict families in divorce cases, said the outpouring on social media about Mrs. Peck’s wedding may point to a desire among children of split families to destigmatize divorce. “To feel as though you’re part of the mainstream, that you’re not the only one whose parents got divorced, almost normalizes the experience,” she said.

Today, more than 4 in 10 American adults have at least one step-relative in their family – either a stepparent, a step or half-sibling or a stepchild, according to a nationwide Pew Research Center survey.

Mrs. Peck’s wedding photographs, which included her biological father, Todd Bachman, and her stepfather, Todd Cendrosky, garnered 64 million views, as of Oct. 8, on the Facebook page of Delia D. Blackburn Photography of LaGrange, Ohio.

“I know Ashton Kutcher shared on his Facebook page,” Ms. Blackburn said in an interview. “It’s been shared throughout the world: Israel, Poland, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Japan, El Salvador, Italy, England. And that’s just off the top of my head.”

Commenters on her page wrote of joyful experiences, such as one where a father pushed a stepfather up the aisle in a wheelchair so they could both accompany the bride, and sad ones of numerous weddings where fathers or mothers refused to attend because stepparents were present.

“That story struck home for me,” said Dana Hickman of Felton, Pa., whose parents divorced when she was 2 years old and who was moved by the emotionally charged photo of Mr. Bachman pulling Mr. Cendrosky to his feet.

Ms. Hickman said that when she was planning her wedding, she wanted both fathers to escort her down the aisle. But her biological father would have none of it. “My biological dad was an alcoholic, and we had a really rocky relationship,” she said.

“In the end, he didn’t come to my wedding at all,” she said, choking back tears. “For him not to be there, as I married the man of my dreams, it put a hole in my heart.” Her father died of cirrhosis of the liver about 10 years ago.

The story behind the picture of Mrs. Peck’s wedding day moment goes back more than 15 years, when Mr. Bachman and the bride’s mother, Candace Cendrosky, divorced and each fought for full custody of their two daughters.

“My little sister and I were put in the middle a lot,” said Mrs. Peck, 21, who lives in LaGrange. “We really want people to realize they shouldn’t put their kids in the middle of their divorce.”

But they do. Barbara Aaron, a divorce lawyer in Connecticut who encourages families to focus on mediation, said, “All parents say they would do anything for the kids, but all too often they are unable to get past their own pain and selfishness and they force the children to choose.”

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Source: The New York Times | JANE GORDON JULIEN