Here comes the bride! (Where's the groom?)

UPDATE: An interesting letter to the editor in the Boston Globe (10/11/07) might be of interest to readers of this post and especially to those who made and followed the responses in the combox below.

Did you see this article on the front page of today’s Boston Globe?
Asking for her hand - after asking permission
Before Bob Hunt dropped to bended knee on the famed Cliff Walk in Newport, R.I., and asked his high school sweetheart to marry him, he’d taken her father to dinner at a Chili’s restaurant and sought his permission. Reviving a tradition that seemingly went the way of the flapper and Prohibition, young men like Hunt these days are talking to their intendeds’ parents before popping the question. While there are no numbers to track the trend, call a bridal store or wedding venue or otherwise inquire among the betrothed and the newlywed and their parents and it is easy to find examples.

< >

What these young men embrace as a gesture of courtesy and respect has roots in an era when women had few rights and little opportunity. ‘‘It was a fairly common practice based on the notion of making alliances between families and passing the daughter who was legally the property of the father onto the husband,’’ says Temple University historian Beth Bailey. ‘‘What we’re seeing right now is an odd combination of young people with progressive sentiments and a real desire for conventional gender roles and arrangements’’

Hunt, a 25-year-old salesman from Attleboro, has long known that Stefanie Brennock, whose parents are divorced, expected that anyone who wanted to marry her would talk to them first. ‘‘It’s just the parents handing over the daughter to a new guy and taking care of me,’’ says Brennock, 24, an assistant manager at a bridal store.

< >

Matthew Fierman, 29, was less formal. Before he proposed to his wife, he telephoned her parents. First he told his future mother-in-law. Then he asked his future father-in-law for his blessing. ‘‘It’s just a sign of respect,’’ says Fierman, a teacher from Brighton. ‘‘Dad got the chance to give the official thumbs-up.’’

< >

Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage said she believes uneasiness contributes to what she calls ‘‘cherry picking’’ of traditions. ‘‘It has none of the old meaning… Since 1967 it’s a rapid revolution where love really trumps everything else. There’s this sense that this is a little dangerous,’’ Coontz says. ‘‘Maybe I want to add a few traditional elements to my modern marriage just to protect us from it being a complete free-for-all.’’

Barbara Gottfried, of Boston University’s women’s studies department, declares herself ‘‘shocked’’ by the trend. ‘‘The fact that the parents are asked prior to the proposal seems to me to be more than politeness,’’ she says. ‘‘Underneath it all is an anxiety about the threat that independent women pose.’’

Not all grooms-to-be adopt the custom. Christopher Cole of Winthrop, leader of a wedding band called Kahootz, didn’t approach his fiancé’s parents before he proposed in a Vermont restaurant.

‘‘The biggest reason was that she’s an adult. It’s not respectful of your fiancé as an adult woman,’’ he says.

‘‘I’m very glad he didn’t,’’ says his fiancée, Nikki Wescott, 33, a hotel wedding coordinator.

- Irene Sege 10/09/07 (complete article)
Let's hear it for Barbara Gottfried, Christopher Cole and Nikki Wescott! And let's be honest about the words we speak, the gestures we make and the symbols we lift up. This is but one of so many wedding customs that speak, gesture and symbolize concepts that virtually all of us have left behind or outright rejected.

It's no secret that in the not too distant past a woman was understood as a kind of property which, in marriage, was transferred from her father to her husband. I've been presiding at weddings for 35 years and have yet to meet a bride who would walk down the aisle with a mind to such a purpose - and yet almost every one of these brides wants her father to "give her away" to another man, her soon-to-be husband. As Stephanie Brennock said,
‘‘It’s just the parents handing over the daughter to a new guy and taking care of me."

Question: Why is the father's permission sought and not the mother's? What does that tell us?

Question: If permission from parents is in order, how is it that the woman is not expected to seek the permission of the man's parents? What does that tell us?

Question: If the man and the woman are indeed mature enough to enter into a life long commitment, whose permission do they need except each other's? If they need some form of parental permission, what does that tell us?

Question: If such gestures of seeking and granting permission are only quaint niceties or pleasant formalities, why go through the motions, considering the message such a practice sends?

Most Baffling Question of All: What does it mean when a man seeks nuptial permission from the father of the woman with whom he's been shacked up for some time, already enjoying with her the benefits once reserved for the married. Now if you want to talk about real tradition, we could start here...

Since the early 1960's, the Roman Catholic Rite of Marriage directs that when all is prepared, the priest goes to the doors of the church and there greets the bride and groom and their parents and close friends and then leads them in procession to the altar. Does this sound unusual?

Most of my readers have never witnessed such an entrance at a wedding. We are accustomed to what I call The Marginalized Groom Arrangement. In this "traditional" scheme of things, the groom and his best friend stand off to the side (in some churches, out of sight) while all attention is trained on the apparently one important person of this day who enters on the arm of another man, usually her father. When the bride and her attendants reach the sanctuary, the groom comes out of the shadows and the bride's escort "gives her away," taking and placing her hand in the groom's.

Pictures speak louder than words and that picture speaks volumes.

There are many wedding customs which not only have no basis in Catholic liturgy but which stand in stark contrast to the Catholic understanding of marriage and sacramental prayer. Asking a parent's permission for ministering a sacrament to one's beloved is one example. The entrance rite which gestures an inequality between the two persons entering into marriage is another.

OK - I've had my rant! It was good to have a forum in which no brides and grooms in the parish played any part. Now it's your turn: have at me!


  1. Since my marriage took place before 1960, perhaps these comments are irrelevant. I never considered myself to be the property of my father, nor did he. My soon-to-be-husband did not ask my father for his permission or even his blessing. My father walking me down the aisle was c onsidered a symbol of moving from one house to another.

    In view of the changes that have taken place in the last 40 or so years, I think the bride and groom leading the procession down the aisle is approproate.

  2. Good blog, Pastor ... I can't believe you didn't get any comments on this one! (Maybe by the time I get through with mine, there might be others that beat me to the punch!)

    Back in the days of daddy's little girl and mommy's little boy, certain formalities were expected.

    However, in answer to some of your questions: #1 - It's a man's world and dad's the boss! #2 - Woman is still considered a second-class citizen? "NOT!" - #3 - They're not really mature enough? Someone's living in the dark ages! - #4 - Why, indeed! - #5 - Who's fooling who?

    Better yet... how about the ones that have the baby first then maybe (or not) get married several months later ... in traditional dress, no less ... huh? What about that?!! (How many of those have I attended!) OR, how about "in a family way" already, walking down the aise in traditional dress?? (Have attended a few of those, too!)

    I always understood that the many shades of "white" were reserved for "virgins" and, unless a young lady was one, she couldn't wear it! My, my, how things have changed in this world - incredible!

    Is anything sacred, anymore?

  3. There are some women who feel it is out of love and respect for them, that the man she loves asks permission from her father to marry her. Regardless of what the father answers, they will, in most situations, marry. It's a tradition that means something to some, and to others, nothing. There are couples that "shack up" for all different reasons. Some look around at marriages, and find it difficult to find happily married couples. Some genuinely are in love and are afraid of marriage. For some it leads to good marriages, for others it does not. As for a woman wearing white and not being a virgin - who does she hurt by wearing a color of tradition. No one. If she is pregnant and getting married, she probably feels she is trying to do the "right thing". Good for her that she is having the baby. Who are we to judge?? Yes, this is against what the Catholic church preaches, but the same Catholic church believes priests should be celibate, and women should not be allowed to become priests. Who does that hurt?? The whole existence of Catholic priests! Now, there's a tradition that people should be ranting about. Not who walks with who, what colors they wear and who they ask out of tradition for the father's permission. These things hurt no one and can be changed according to how each couple desires it to happen. But celibacy and women priests?? Not going to change in my lifetime!

  4. I think in the tradition of asking the bride's father for her hand in marriage goes straight to the bride being "Daddy's little girl".
    In some families, the relationship between father and daughter is a strong one.
    As for "shacking up"? My son lived with his now wife for 2 years before marriage. When I asked him if he was nervous about the marriage, he said in his mind they had been married for 2 years, since they started living together. This was only for God and family. Before they became engaged, he spoke to us, his parents, about marrying. He did take her father out to ask for his permission to have his daughter's hand in marriage in the tradition that they will become PARTNERS for the rest of thier lives. No "ownership of the bride", but unconditional love and respect for the woman who is now his wife. I think his father in law is the one who appreciated it more than anyone.
    I applaud my son for the respect he has shown to the woman he loves, her family and our own family.
    There is nothing wrong with wanting to maintain the traditions from the past. Having "Dad" walk her down the isle is a tradition that is a special bond between father and daughter. I thought the way my son went about the whole situation was admirable and very respectful. Especially for someone who was "shacking up".

  5. Actually, anonymous #2 was from regina, I hit the wrong button...

  6. I will go one further on old traditions. At one point I actually hoped that my parents would pick someone for me to marry! I seemed not to be able to make good choices. I never said anything to them about my wish. After many years, I did marry a simply lovely man. By the time I married my parents had died, but I did ask my brother to escort me! So I guess traditions remain strong even though their original purposes have changed.

  7. Life is too serious and I make light of many things. So, if I offended anyone by my comments, I apologize!

    My father died when I was 16 and, so, I only had my mother. When I became engaged, my husband did not ask for my hand in marriage, which upset my mother, since she should have been the one to whom the question would have been directed. However, she was right there when I got my ring -- on Thanksgiving Day, so that I would have something to be thankful for! (That's what my then, fiance, had said!) Less than a year later, we were married in a traditional church wedding, with all the trimmings. My uncle (mother's brother) walked me down the aisle. Many years before, he also walked my mother down the aisle -- only because my grandfather didn't want to do it! Well, now, here we are after 33 years, and all has been forgiven! My mother loves my husband and he loves her -- they get along fantastically and she knows that she can count on him at any time if she needs to go somewhere or to have something repaired. However, she is steadfast in her beliefs and feels that the old traditions should remain because it's the right thing to do.

    I look at things this way: No matter how the world changes its views on any subject matter, there are always going to be those who still believe in the old traditions and values and nothing anyone can say will change their minds. And, that's okay, too!

  8. You are so right Holy Crumpet- life experiences, just as you described from your own story, shape our views.
    My experiences are completely different from yours - which shape and influence my own views of the traditions. Different people, different views, ... are what makes a blog like this interesting. It's always good to hear from a different perspective of issues in the world!

  9. The third of four of my children is being married soon, but this is the first daughter. Her fiance who is in his early 30's did come to see her father and I to ask for our blessing...I have to say I was deeply touched by this...certainly we did not feel as if we were "giving her" to him, but rather that this sweet, gentle, considerate man cared enough about us, his relationship with us and about her to ask for our blessing. Many of our friends who have not had this happen to them have told us that they wished they had.

    One of our sons payed a visit to his fiances grandmothers grave to place flowers before proposing to her granddaughter; he knew how close they had been and that this would be immportant to her.

    Perhaps many of these traditions and customs do not have a place or roots in our faith traditon and/or liturgy, but I do think that many of them are rooted in relationship... our relationship to one another...and aren't those relationships rooted in God?

  10. Regan said:

    I can understand why a man would ask the father of his future bride for her hand. Back in the day when women were regarded as property, the reason was obvious. Nowdays the reason has changed. I know when I was ready to ask for my wife's hand, I made plans to have dinner with her father. It was for her sake in some regards (I'll explain later), but also for his sake as well. I was about to move into the position of 'most important male' in my wife's life...permanently. That role had been held by another man, her father, for 2 and a half decades. From his perspective, he was the one man who had (and would) always love her, never hurt her, always try and protect her. She could count on him being there...anytime...anywhere....any reason. Boyfriends had come and gone, but he was always there. He was indeed the first male relationship she had ever experienced, and she had held this as a bar of measurement with all her future relationships with men (men should treat her with the same love and respect that her father treated her....or that her father treated her mother).

    It's was good thing. Not all fathers achieve this level of relationship with their daughters, but this man did......and I was about to 'replace' him. It was a time for us to meet; it would be me honoring this relationship he had with her, and to assure him I would also 'love, honor, and protect' as he has done. (Although I'm sure a lot of this would have been 'unsaid', as many male-male conversations seem to be....).

    For my wife, she appreciated that I offered a showing of deep respect for the man who she regards so highly. Making her father happy also made her happy.

    Now, true....because the reasons for 'asking for a daughters hand in marriage' has changed (i.e. woman as 'property thing'), to something a little more different (i.e. respecting the father-daughter relationship), it now means that it is not for everyone. Some daughters do NOT have a very good relationship with their fathers (and vice-versa). This is where the future-husband needs to make a judgement call. Also, it may be that the mother plays a bigger role with the spouse then the father(e.g. if the mother divorced and raised the future-bride herself and the father is no longer in the picture, etc.). Harder for us (the guy who wants to marry the girl), because some women would take offense to having their intended ask their parents.

    It's just another thing that the man has to worry about when asking a women for her hand in marriage (...along with 'picking the wrong shaped stone' for the engagement ring; not asking her in a romantic-enough way, etc.). Just makes the stories told years later more interesting.

    (Just so you know, my father in law died 2 months before I had planned to ask him to dinner. Sad. I was looking forward to the 'grilling' he would have given me. It would have been a good bonding experience for both of us....he was a good man. Instead, I took my mother in law out to dinner instead. She was very touched by the gesture, and my wife appreciated that I had made her mother happy.

    Just my opinion on the matter......

    -Tom Regan

  11. Well said, Tom. I wonder, in light of your comment, how you might read the following adaptation of your words:

    "I was about to move into the position of 'most important female' in my husband's life...permanently. That role had been held by another woman, his mother, for 2 and a half decades. From her perspective, she was the one woman who had (and would) always love him, never hurt him, always try and protect him. He could count on her being there...anytime...anywhere....any reason. Girlfriends had come and gone, but she was always there. She was indeed the first female relationship he had ever experienced, and he had held this as a bar of measurement with all his future relationships with women (women should treat him with the same love and respect that his mother treated him....or that his mother treated his father)."

    Seems to me that this makes just as much beautiful sense as what you wrote, and yet we do not expect a bride to ask the groom's mother for permission to marry her son, or for her son's hand in marriage.

    That, I believe, is part of the issue here. Even when adapted to our present culture (as you beautifully image) the practice retains a gender bias. If asking for a hand in marriage is to have currency today, it should apply equally to bride and groom.


Please THINK before you write
and PRAY before you think!