A series of evocative photos that show a father interrupting his daughter’s wedding to ask her stepfather to help walk her down the aisle has moved a nation.
But no one was more touched by the gesture than the bride herself, Brittany Peck, who says the rocky relationship between the two men made that unforgettable moment even more poignant.
“Less than 10 years ago, my dad and stepdad wouldn’t even look at each other,” Peck, 21, of LaGrange, Ohio, tells PEOPLE. “There was a long custody battle and it was bad, really bad. It really hurt my sister and I.”
Peck’s parents split up when she was 6 and her mom remarried when she was 11. Her stepdad, Todd Cendrosky, quickly became very much like a second father.
Cendrosky played such a pivotal role in her life that when it came time to ask for her hand in marriage, her then-boyfriend consulted both Cendrosky and Peck’s biological dad, Todd Bachman.
While planning the wedding, Peck hoped to adopt an equally diplomatic approach to walking down the aisle.
“I knew I wanted both of them to walk me down the aisle, but I also knew how my dad felt,” Peck says. “I mean, we’ve all been through so much together like with the custody battle, it just didn’t seem possible.”
However, Peck said she tried to subtly share her feelings with her father about two weeks before the wedding when she called him in a panic.
“I said, ‘Dad, I really have to talk to you. You told me just last week that this is my wedding, I only get married once and it needs to be perfect,’ ” she explains.
“I just said that, I didn’t even mention why I was calling him, and he said, ‘Brittany, don’t you worry, I have it all planned, I wasn’t even going to tell you but I know how upset you are and how much you want this so I’m going to make it as special as possible,’ ” she continued.
Brittany wouldn’t learn what her father had planned until her wedding day, when he left her at the beginning of the aisle and walked over to Cendrosky, pulling him up to join them in the procession.
“He came and grabbed my hand and said, ‘You worked as hard as I have. You’ll help us walk our daughter down the aisle,’ ” Cendrosky, 45, told WKYC. “I got weak in the knees and lost it. I couldn’t have anything better in my life, the most impactful moment in my life.”
“That really meant a lot to him,” Peck adds. “He also has medical issues with his back, so he’s probably not going to be walking for much longer.”
Wedding photographer Delia Blackburn captured the heartwarming moment in a series of photos that have now gone viral, an experience Peck calls “surreal.”
“I’ve seen all these stories that have gone viral on Facebook and I always share them,” Peck says. “I just never could’ve imagined that this would happen to me.”
The young woman says she hopes that if anything can come from the attention her family’s private moment has garnered, it would be for parents to learn to put their children first.
“I think a lot of people who saw the photos are going through divorces, custody battles and putting their children in the middle,” she says. “I hope parents see our story and learn not to put their kids in the middle and try their hardest to work it out.”