An old and honorable tradition is making a comeback. And it is nice to see it happening.
Those of us who were born way back when remember the days when we courted a young lady, held her hand at the cinema and ultimately decided she was the one we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with.
That led us freckle-faced young men to the step we knew was a formality, but a necessary hurdle to get over before we could walk down the aisle.
We had to ask the father’s permission for his daughter’s hand.
Apparently, this old custom died the same way as other old traditions, such as carrying a girl’s books home from school or parking in the back row of the drive-in theatre.
But it is coming back, and that makes me feel great.
Jenna Bush’s fiancé, Henry Hagler, met with her future father-in-law, President George W., privately before he proposed.
Many other young men around the country are doing the same, and as one future husband put it, doing so is “just a sign of respect.”
The tradition was brought to the United States from England. At first, the request was a serious one and may or may not have been successful, depending on the collateral aspects of the marriage. But in the mid-19th century, when love rather than family ties formed the basis of marriages, the practice became more a formality than a real question of approval.
I know that even though my proposal to the better half of the Winslow couple didn’t take place till the mid-1950s, I followed the old custom and asked for Mr. Tomkiewicz’s OK to marry his daughter.
I was a bit nervous and planned my strategy, and determined the best time to get him alone and in the right frame of mind would be after a hearty meal.
My father-in-law worked the Town of Adams Highway Department and walked home every noontime for lunch. Figuring that any man with a full belly will be relaxed and in a good mood, I arranged to be at his house when he came home for lunch one Friday afternoon.
After he finished eating, I offered to drive him back to work, figuring while I had him in the car, he couldn’t jump out when I asked for his daughter’s hand.
I had a speech prepared.
“You know Betty and I have been going out for quite some time,” I started. “I really think she is special and we would like to get married. I don’t know whether I have to do this, but I would like your OK.”
(I didn’t use the word blessing because he had had a confrontation with the Polish priest a few years earlier and wouldn’t react favorably to that term.)
I told him I would be giving her an engagement ring to formalize the proposal. Expecting a simple “fine” or “go ahead and marry her” as a reply, I was taken aback at his words: “Where the hell did you get enough money to buy a ring?”
I took that as an informal yes, and here we are, 50-plus years later, making it work.
Even though the tradition is making a comeback, there are still many of today’s generation who won’t adopt the custom. This really galls me and justifies a 6 on our blood boiling scale.
Discussing the matter with friends, most were glad to hear of the comeback.
Of course, the follow-up act of bending on your knee and popping the question did not get universal approval. Many, like me, would never make it up again.
Winslow recently moved to Williamsburg, but has written his Curmudgeon Report for more than a dozen years. He wonders how rapidly your blood is boiling on this issue? Let him know at email@example.com.