Asking A Father's Permission: Romantic or Chauvinist?
Before my ex-husband proposed to me, he met with my mother for dinner to disclose our intentions and ask for my family's blessing. Not too long in the past, this kind of meeting had a very specific purpose -- and not one that I look back on with any sort of nostalgia. Back then, it was not a blessing that was asked of the future bride's family, but permission and it wasn't so much a gesture as it was a negotiation. The future bride was cherished by her family, certainly, but her role was not one that that gave her any agency. She was there to forge an alliance between families for political or economic reasons. The match was not so much a question of love but advantage for her family in general.
"Here are the keys to my daughter, son!" | Photo by Victor1558. (Flickr)
Often, such meetings involved financial arrangements, the most notable and unpleasant of which is the bride price, or the amount paid by the groom's family to the family of the bride. This sum, given in property, money or other assets, was a direct reflection of the perceived value of the woman who was about to be wed. The dowry -- the sum paid by the bride's family -- was negotiated either to go to the groom's family as compensation for the bride price, or to the bride for her new household, as a sort of financial guarantee that she would be treated well by her future husband.
It's not very romantic, but then, weddings rarely were romantic in the days where women were the property of their fathers and then their husbands. I had no intention of reviving any such traditions when I decided to get married; however, since I lived an ocean away from my parents and they'd not had the opportunity to experience this relationship by my side, I felt it was important to find a way to include them.
And so it was that while my mother was on business in California, my then-boyfriend met with her to ask for my family's blessing. My parents, who were already aware of the eventuality of our marriage and completely understood their blessing was merely honorific, were pleased with the gesture.
Without a doubt, not all women feel this way about asking for a family's blessing. Some think asking a father's permission is proper etiquette, while others see it only as a painful reminder of inequality. K falls closer to the latter category than the former. Last week, she tweeted something that summarized her views perfectly: "If Pete had asked anyone other than me for permission to marry me, I would have turned him down."
One of her readers responded to her, saying: "Speaking for guys here. There is a strong chance that we're scared of your dad. We don’t want to piss him off. Given that we're stealing his daughter from him, it's best that we get the all clear from him."
This response prompted a blog post, where K elaborated on her point, sharing her personal experience:
I have a fantastic relationship with my father. He is one of the best people I have ever had the luck to know, and I am grateful for him every single day. I also have a fantastic relationship with my husband, who is one of the best people I have ever had the luck to know, and I am grateful for him every single day. Getting married did not replace my dad with my husband. I wasn't passed from one responsible party to another. I added a great person to my life, a person I can love; a person I laugh and live my life with.
But make no mistake: it is my life. Nobody "stole" me from anyone, and nobody other than me gave anyone permission to marry me. At our wedding, I walked down the aisle with both of my parents. They did not walk me down the aisle; I walked with them. The difference between passive and active voice is exceptionally important. I was not given away. There was no giving to be done, because I am not property.
The patriarchy is perpetuated not only by men who want their future son-in-law to talk to him first and not only by men who want to talk to their future father-in-law before talking to their future spouse. It is perpetuated by women who think it's romantic or respectful or whatever to have their future spouse get permission from their father first. Ladies, this shit is on you just as much as on them. If you don't want to be treated like you are not a person, stop treating yourself as if you were chattel.
I agree with her completely. I see the asking for a blessing and the wedding itself as a way of sharing a relationship with other people. My current relationship is wonderful the way it is. If we choose to have a wedding, it will not be my "big day" but rather, the day Rodrigo and I will share our union with everyone else that we love.
In that vein, asking for a blessing is only necessary when key family members are so far away that they haven't had an opportunity to see the evolution of a relationship and you want them to feel a part of it. In the best case, it unfolds between a couple and each of their parents. That wasn't the case for me -- I was slammed with work at the time in Peru and couldn't fly to Los Angeles in time and my father was tied up with something across the Pacific, so the gesture fell to my then-boyfriend, with my mother as the recipient. And it was a lovely gesture -- especially since we had no plans of having a traditional wedding during which my parents would be able to share in our relationship.
This second time around, everything is much different. Rodrigo and I spend as much time with his parents as we can, so when I decided to propose to him, we had all been talking about our future for so long, I knew I had their blessing and didn't feel I needed to ask. They knew my intentions and they were already a part of our life.
I did confer with my parents and sister beforehand, of course, because they still remain scattered all over the place and I want them to always know they have a special place in my life, but these are gestures of inclusion, not oppressive traditions dug up from yesteryear to strip anyone of agency.
I think that's a very important distinction to make. At least it is for me.
So just to be sure if we are on the same page, before I sat down to write this, I asked Rodrigo whether -- if he had decided to propose to me -- he would have asked my father for my hand first. He responded: "I have no interest in reviving the 1800s. We're individuals. Nothing about our relationship has ever happened for the sake of tradition or convention and hopefully nothing ever will."
He paused briefly, then added, with a slight smile: "that said, my parents are still waiting for the groom price."
"Sorry, it takes a really long time for oxen to make their way up to Los Angeles from Peru," I responded. We laughed.
How do you feel about the tradition of asking a father's permission before proposing? If you're married, is that how it happened in your relationship?