Warning To A Future Son-in-Law

I am old-fashioned.  I do not deny it, and will not apologize for it.  As such it makes me happy to defend a practice that Barbara Gottfried of the Boston University Women’s Studies department called “utterly shocking.”

The U. K. Daily Mail this month released a survey that indicated a mere 15 percent of young British men asked their prospective father-in-law for permission to marry his daughter.  Count me a “15 percenter.”

The values we once described as chivalric are not – I believe – repressive.  I believe they are a prostration.  A woman should be treated deferentially not because she is less than a man, rather the opposite.  Deference acknowledges that a woman is more than a man.  You may try to call that view sexist, I see it as respectful.

I always viewed the tradition of asking a man permission to marry his daughter an honorific practice to be adopted.  I regret that 1,500 miles prevented me from having a face to face conversation with my father-in-law.  A phone call is not the same. I understand that.  Though I settled, I would try to find a way to do it differently if I had it to do over again.

As a father with a daughter I now see the tradition rather differently.  Yes, the request for permission is a show of respect, but it is more.  I am the protector of my daughter.  She is young now.  As she gets older my role will doubtless diminish.  I will go from being her protector to being her safety net, in time becoming little more than a back-up system.

The historical practice of requesting permission to marry goes back to times when the father controlled the fate of the daughter and negotiated terms of matrimony.  Daughters were less “daddy’s little princess” and more chattel.

When the day comes, and some young man asks if he may propose marriage to my Maggie, he will be offering not to take away my daughter, but to take my place as her designated protector.  Asking permission is his chance to step up and announce that he is prepared to take my post, that he is in fact willing to take my place as the first person in line to sacrifice everything to care for her.

Yet, probably cowed by political correctness, the self-designated instructional resources for men, do not share my view.  GQ magazine describes the rite as “almost ancient history,” one that “smacks of sexism and chauvinism.”  AskMen.com says that the reasons for asking permission is obsolete, so should the tradition follow.

I agree with the observation of Ask Men, but not the conclusion.  That a woman is in no more need of a man to care for her than a man is in need of a woman to care for him, is something to be celebrated.  Most statistics seem to indicate that a woman is now better able to care for herself than a man is able to care for himself.   The strength and self-reliance of women is fantastic, albeit overdue.  But that in no way diminishes that a man should hold a woman – any woman – in higher regard than other men.  It is doubly true with the woman he has pledged his life to.

Oddly, most of those who disparage the requirement that a man ask a father’s permission, do counsel that if some old-fashioned dinosaur still feel obligated by tradition he should only talk to the father after having first discussed the proposal with his would-be fiancée.

This is worse than not asking at all.  Under this weaseling manipulation, if anything goes wrong, the blame rests on the father.  This is no show of respect but an abrogation of responsibility.  Don’t propose to your girlfriend and then ask her father for permission.

The women’s website, The Frisky, after confessing to being “horrified” by the tradition, joins the men’s sites in advising suitors to ask not for permission, but for the father’s blessing.  This approach offers a nod to tradition but sidesteps the intent.

In modern weddings, we retain two traditions that are really adjuncts to asking the father permission to marry his daughter.  The groom still enters the church first, and the father still walks his daughter down the aisle to make a courtly transition whereby the bride is “given” to the groom.

The purpose of groom entering the church first signifies that he is initiating the covenant and thus, according to the symbolism, bears the greater burden for maintaining and defending the union.

The father’s “giving” of the bride is a physical demonstration, in front of God and family, that the soon-to-be husband is the prime guarantor of the woman’s well-being.

I can understand the concern strong and independent women have with a practice that began in a bygone era, before equality between the sexes.  This however is not enough to dissuade me from the firm belief that the man owes more to the woman than she to he.

In America, in 2009, 99 percent of marriages begin with the man proposing.  Across our culture, the man asks for the privilege of the woman’s partnership.  He does this with an engagement ring that cost, in 2009, an average of $2,000.

The importance of tradition and symbolism rightly varies from person to person.  Each should pursue his or her path in accordance with their beliefs.  Be that as it may, woe to the young man who tries to take my daughter into his family without going through me.


3 thoughts on “Warning To A Future Son-in-Law

    1. But did your dad give him a gift? I got a new cordless drill when I asked to marry the Yawper’s sister. I asked, he walked out of the room, and came back with the drill, as promised.

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