It all started with a rock. And I don’t mean the engagement ring. What we are talking about here is an ordinary rock. Some smaller people might even call it boulder.
Dinner was over and Faye’s father, who is always looking for something to lift or fix, walked off by himself to inspect this boulder jutting out of the sand and snow. It had been there for years, blocking a clear path to water. Instead of sitting upon it for a moment to admire the brisk New Hampshire air, he decided that it would be the perfect time to try to move it. After watching him kick at it with his boot and struggle to shove it, I saw my opportunity to ask THE QUESTION. After all, that was the goal of my visit – to gallantly ask for his permission to marry his eldest daughter.
I ran over to help out. As we pushed and nudged at the rock, we made small talk that felt like profound double entendres.
FATHER: It’s heavy and in the way.
ME: Yes. It is.
FATHER: Someone could get hurt.
ME: Yes. One could.
He sent me off to grab a plank for leverage. As I wandered around picking up damp sticks, I talked to myself. What the hell am I about to do? Am I really supposed to ask Faye’s father for his permission? Do I even feel the need to have his permission? If he says “No,” I’ll still marry Faye. I felt like I was in some old John Hughes flick (Papa’s Permission staring Corey Haim). As I returned empty-handed, I decided I was in over my head. I needed to do some research.
Once home in New York, I Googled. I found conflicting advice everywhere. One place suggested the groom talk to the bride about her ideas on the matter, since she would know her family’s values better than the groom. But, if I asked Faye her opinion on the matter, she might, I don’t know, get a tad suspicious that I was planning to ask her to marry me.
Me: “Sweety, quick question – do you think your parents would want a guy to ask for their permission if he wanted to marry you? A friend wants to know.”
I wanted the proposal to be a surprise.
I called my sister in Los Angeles. She told me that her husband didn’t ask my mother for permission and it never seemed to bother her. So I asked my mother how she really felt about it. She told me that she had never realized that that my brother-in-law didn’t ask for permission, at which point she said, “Should I be insulted?”
My friend who spends the most time in the self-help stacks suggested that I make a list of “truths” for myself.
TRUTH #1 “Do I have your permission to marry your daughter” felt like a dishonest question, because I would still ask Faye to marry me regardless of the response.
TRUTH #2 Faye’s parents are not terribly traditional. They got married at City Hall and no one asked anyone for permission. They couldn’t be expecting me to ask.
TRUTH #3 I really didn’t like the word “permission.” “Blessing” was okay, but felt a little religious and antiquated to me, so I looked for alternatives in the thesaurus. Unfortunately, “May I have your approbation to ask your daughter to marry me?” was even worse.
TRUTH #3 1/2 Speaking of antiquated, I wanted to ask both parents – not just her father.
TRUTH #4 I wanted Faye to be the first one to hear my intentions. I knew she would get a boatload of joy from telling her parents the exciting news herself, and she would be a little bummed if her parents already knew it was happening. This is just something that I know about her. She doesn’t like it when someone knows about a birthday present she is getting before she opens it. I wanted her to be the one to tell the news.
Conclusion: I would ask Faye to marry me first, and then she would tell her parents the news, and then I would ask for their blessings to marry their daughter.
And that is exactly what I did. After she said “okay,” (for more details, see next week’s episode!) she called her parents to tell them the news. She spoke with her mom first and then it was my turn to get on the phone. I told her mother how much I loved her daughter, and I asked her for her blessing. She was thrilled to give it and at that moment I was sure I had gone about the whole proposal thing in the right way. Then I handed the phone back to Faye. She told her father the news, and after a bit of silence she handed the phone to me.
TRUTH #5 You can’t make everyone happy.
When I held the phone to my ear there was a long pause and then her father said in an uncharacteristically stern tone:
FATHER: So, you’re the kind of guy who shoots first and asks questions later?
It didn’t get much better from there.
Later he said that he was surprised by his reaction, too. He felt like he was role-playing “The Stern Father.” It was fun. He went with it.
If someone were to ask me now my own answer to the question, “Should the groom ask the bride’s father for permission?” I would tell them:
Hell if I know.
What you do will have to come from personal preference and knowledge of your situation and the family you are marrying into. Maybe you’ll plan it to a tee and be absolutely positive you are making the right move. And then you might still end up being wrong. But I bet you get married either way.
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