The new song “Rude” by MAGIC! is picking up a lot of playtime on radio this summer. For those who mumble though the chorus (like me not long ago) without giving it much attention, allow me to summarize: Boy meets girl, falls in love, and wants to marry her. Boy asks girl’s old-fashioned father for her hand in marriage and is repeatedly turned down. Boy decides to “marry her anyway.”
I enjoy the song and its summer grooviness. But the background story of the song made me wonder: Is there still a place for this old tradition of asking a father for his daughter’s hand in the twenty-first century? The tradition, some might argue, recalls a time when women were treated as property that could be given away, rather than as independent persons. And, if a couple is going to marry anyway, why bother asking at all?
The tradition holds a tenuous and confused place today. On the one hand we have the real world, where we grow up with our family’s traditions and often feel an obligation to keep them alive. In the real world we eat pierogies for dinner and go to quinceañeras to celebrate our family’s mixed Polish and Mexican backgrounds. Not because we particularly like pierogies or still understand the meaning of the quinceañera celebration. But because these events shape our cultural identity, enable us to take pride in our heritage, and give us the joy of connecting with others who share the same cultural background. It's no different with the tradition of asking for a girl’s hand in marriage. It is a tradition that, at its core, symbolizes the desire for familial harmony.
On the other hand, we are part of a “love conquers all” culture epitomized—and shaped—by Hollywood’s lucrative romantic comedy business, as well as music and fiction. I am referring to the abundant "happily ever after" stories where the boy-meets-girl scenario follows a predictable storyline and ends with all obstacles (including parents) overcome through the immense power of love. When the bride and groom are seen as the leading roles in their own romantic comedy, other “characters” can recede in importance.
What’s more, the mechanics of the tradition recall a time when women were “given away” as property once a prospective husband was identified, an idea completely discordant with today's mentality: an understanding of women as independent persons capable of—and with the right to—direct their own future. But does the core of the tradition’s symbolism not carry more weight than its historical connotations?
The young man in the song is evidently unsure. He sings about how he is “going to marry her anyway” when faced with the unexpected turn down. At the same time we see him “jumping out of bed” on a Saturday morning, “putting on his best suit,” and “racing like a jet” in his excitement to partake in this tradition, or at the very least comply with the expectations of the girl’s father on such an occasion. If he was going to “marry her anyway” why put in the effort of asking the father?
Besides the good of respecting traditions, there is a more utilitarian aspect to preserving the tradition of asking for parents’ blessing. It can be an important and helpful step in the process of preparing for marriage.
You don’t just marry the girl, you marry her entire family. This [crazy/fun/quirky/insert favorite adjective here] bunch will stick around for most of your married life. So “marrying her anyway” may take a little more work than the song suggests if you want to avoid a married life of awkward and uncomfortable holiday dinners. Additionally, as you begin your new journey together, life will undoubtedly throw you some curve balls, and you may need parental support and guidance—also, countless hours of free childcare.
And, did I mention financial support? Today, roughly 48 percent of middle-aged adults continue to provide some financial support to their adult children, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. While we work to establish long-term economic security, many of us can expect to ask for and receive financial assistance from our parents in our adult (and married) years.
Finally parents’ life experience can serve as a rough map for your new journey. They will likely have started in the same warm, love-infused waters, navigated through some rough ones, and experienced the ups and downs of major life episodes such as layoffs, new babies, financial troubles, or buying a new home.
So asking for your parents’ blessing is more than an outdated formality. Parents are not, after all, minor roles in a couple’s personal rom-com, but often take leading roles. Since your parents will be along for the ride as you begin the journey of married life, it seems only courteous to ask if they want to come.
WHAT IF THEY SAY NO?
Of course every couple hopes to be met with an overwhelming “yes,” followed by tears, hugs, and memorable pictures. But that is not always the case. What if the parents raise objections or don’t approve?
One need not look at their questions/objections as attacks that need to be fended off or obstacles to overcome. Parents ask these tough questions because they love their children and have known their kids longer—and usually better—than anyone else. The questions they raise can be considered as an opportunity to evaluate the relationship.
A negative answer may not change your decision, and you don’t have to agree with the objections parents raise. But asking them for their blessing before an engagement is an opportunity to reach out and understand and give good, thoughtful consideration to their opinion.
After doing a thorough evaluation of your relationship, the timing of your engagement, your reasons for wanting to get married, and any parental objections, you may decide to “get married anyway.” But having done due diligence, you can have more confidence in your decision and be better prepared to “be family.”
Photo via Billboard.com