Asking for her hand. A lesson.

So normally, I don't bother complaining about music or other elements of popular culture.  Partly because it does no good, but mostly because the general solution is simple, change the station.  But There is a song out there that annoys me.  Less because it is bad (though that is also true) but mostly for the message it passes along to young men.  You are welcome to give it a listen here, though I don't recommend it save to satisfy curiosity, but I will include the relevant lyrics below.

"Saturday morning jumped out of bed and put on my best suit
Got in my car and raced like a jet, all the way to you
Knocked on your door with heart in my hand
To ask you a question
'Cause I know that you're an old fashioned man yeah yeah"

Well, we start off good.  The young man is getting dressed in his finest in order to go ask the father for his daughter's hand "cause I know you're an old fashioned man".

"'Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life? Say yes, say yes
'Cause I need to know
You say I'll never get your blessing till the day I die
Tough luck my friend but the answer is no!"

Well, that ended poorly for the young man.  Clearly one of two things is happening.  Either the father doesn't care for you (and how you could have missed that is beyond me; I mean you've been dating his daughter long enough to want to marry her) or he's testing you.  Well, let's see how that goes...

"Why you gotta be so rude?
Don't you know I'm human too
Why you gotta be so rude
I'm gonna marry her anyway
Marry that girl
Marry her anyway
Marry that girl
Yeah no matter what you say
Marry that girl
And we'll be a family"

Be so rude?  Refusing his daughter's hand in marriage isn't rude.  Cruel, perhaps, but not rude.  He didn't insult you, he didn't laugh in your face, he just said no (and somewhat politely given how strenuous his refusal was, I suspect he has a pretty good reason).  And I don't think your species is in doubt, I'm pretty sure he knows you're human... until two lines later when you demonstrate that perhaps you're some species or rat, weasel or other vermin.

For you see, if you ask a man for his daughter's hand, and then, upon hearing "no" resolve to not just ignore the refusal, but to defy him on it... you are dead wrong.  Because now you've turned a nice gesture (the asking) into blatant disrespect.  Boy, you'd have been better off not asking in the first place.  But let's go back to my premise that one of two things is going on.  If you asked and the father flatly refused you like that because he doesn't like you, then you're an idiot.  You had to have seen that coming.  Unless you're totally clueless and self absorbed (in which case, perhaps the father's judgment is dead on).  In this case, you're not good enough for his daughter, and ignoring his refusal does nothing but prove her father right.  And if he was testing you, then you just failed in the most spectacular manner ever.  Mind you, I think a man who would play with the emotions of a potential son-in-law in this matter as a means of testing his worth is pretty crappy.

In either case, the correct response (assuming you ever want to be able to get along with this man, and avoid his eternal hatred) is to say, "Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, but I will continue to try and make myself worthy of her."  This would demonstrate that you honor his position, and will not defy him.  If this was a test, then this is your best hope of passing.  If it's not, then you've taken the first step towards proving to this man that maybe he's wrong about you.

This song is basically is saying the father's refusal is "rude" and that open defiance is the best response.  Neither is true.  This pup is too wrapped up in how the refusal makes him feel, demonstrating his unworthiness more potently than anything the father could say.  And again, in the likely case the father's refusal stems from that unworthiness, all the boy does is prove him right in that judgment.  Terrible song, terrible lesson, and perhaps the worst thing is this is supposed to be somehow "romantic".


MikeD said...

True story to accompany this. Due to the fact that my wife was a divorcee and her parents lived in LA while we were here in Georgia, I didn't even meet her father til after we met, and I never asked his permission to marry her. And while it was mildly awkward to meet him after we had been married half a year, at least I didn't have defiance hanging over my head when we did meet. Turns out that it worked out fine, in my case.

Grim said...

I asked my father-in-law for permission to propose to his daughter. He was pleased, I think, although he gave what I take to also be a formally correct answer: that while he had no objection to my asking, he had raised her to make up her own mind and would respect her decision on the matter.

It's still good to ask, though, and not just because it's 'old fashioned.' In braiding families together, it's good to test whether you're really a good fit for the family you're joining (just as you need to know if she's a good fit for yours). The point of the ritual is to test the bonds that you're about to rely upon, in just the way that you would vigorously test a rope before you put your weight on it and swung over a cliff.

Anonymous said...

Asking for a young lady's hand is a gesture of respect to the father and mother, most times. It's also a fairly solid rule that no young man is good enough for a beloved daughter. My impression of the song is that the guy who is asking is simply too young, and the father cannot foresee him growing up.

So sometimes momma has a different take on it, even at an early age.

The real negotiations, however, take place between the young people. When my oldest first started thinking about marriage, I played him these two songs, together.

He knew both of those songs, and did not recognize them for marriage negotiations. I wanted him to know when he was in a marriage negotiation.


Grim said...

Heh. Meat Loaf, transmitter of the wisdom of the ages to the youth of today. :)

E Hines said...

There's another possibility, too: the daughter, despite having dated this boy--or perhaps because of that--didn't want to tell him no to an anticipated proposal, so she'd prepped her father with her answer on the chance he'd approach him first.

However: my then-future father-in-law never entered into the picture. My wife and I were engaged four weeks after we met and married six weeks after that. The only reason for that long engagement, too, was so we could harmonize the schedules of those we wanted at our wedding. Since my wife and I were half a country away from our respective families, I met my inlaws--all of them--and my wife met her inlaws--most of them; a brother on the other side of the country from all of this couldn't make it--at our wedding.'s good to test whether you're really a good fit for the family you're joining (just as you need to know if she's a good fit for yours)....

That's one version. However, in my wife's and my case, I married her, not her family, and she married me, not my family. Their approval was nice, but not relevant: neither of us was joining another family; we were, together, forming our own family.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

My brother asked his light-o-love's father for his blessing, rather than permission. Future Father-in-law hugged Brother so hard it almost cracked ribs. Bro took that as an affirmative. Thus far they've been married 9.5 years and going strong.


Grim said...

It's possible that your conceptual structure worked practically as well as it did because you were, in fact, joining another family that welcomed you as a member. Conceiving of marriage as only about the two 'parties to the contract' strikes me as the root flaw in how we've gotten to the weakened structure of marriage that we have. That's not to say that it can never work well, where in fact the families and the persons involved are virtuous. Almost anything will work well under those circumstances.

As Cass used to chide me to remember, though, we don't build institutions or laws to account for the best people. It may well be that two fully-formed adults from good families don't need to think about how the families fit together, or about how to build strong relationships between themselves and the members of the family from which their spouse comes. They may never need those relationships for much of anything, being competent adults. And the relationships are likely to be good anyway, since the families are good families who raised such a competent adult.

On the other hand, if you're Meat Loaf's worked-up 17 year old boy, it's probably good to have an institution that demands you to approach the other family and consider how comfortable you are with them. It's good to have an institution that demands you consider their interest in their daughter, and not just your interest in their daughter. And it's good for the daughter to feel some emotional tie to her family accepting her beau, too, as she can also be swept away in the heat of teenage passion. All this helps to ensure that the bond that is being forged will be strong, and will be able to rely on the extended families should tough times come along.

E Hines said...

Conceiving of marriage as only about the two 'parties to the contract'

I'm not sure where that came from. Certainly not from anything I've written.

...if you're Meat Loaf's worked-up 17 year old boy....

That's an entirely different kettle of fish. In most modern societies, at least one of the relevant families have already shown itself dysfunctional through having let a child get to this state.

we don't build institutions

We didn't build this institution, either. It accreted through a buildup from custom, habit, simple inertia. Perhaps it survived because it has value, perhaps it survived because it didn't have an overabundance of disvalue. Perhaps it survived because it was better--or less bad--than competing alternatives.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

I didn't ask my husband's family for his hand in marriage, and I would have thought it exceedingly odd if he had asked mine. Honestly it just didn't occur to us; we were 27 and 29 at the time, and perceived (correctly, I still think) that our families were neither her nor there in the question, though it might have been nice if things had been otherwise. These many years later, I no longer think it's such a bizarre idea, but I'd still be inclined to make it a custom for both bride and groom.

Ymar Sakar said...

Technically, if he was rude, he would have gotten a shot gun and tried to shoot the courtier's head off.

Conceiving of marriage as only about the two 'parties to the contract' strikes me as the root flaw in how we've gotten to the weakened structure of marriage that we have.

Probably, but America lacks certain cultural understandings to pick this up now a days. In 1950, people still had that sense, but it's now been mostly lost.

I started translating Japanese into English, audio wise, some years ago and that helped clear up some ancient concepts. I used to think this modernization with the family was natural, that it was inevitable. It turned out, it wasn't inevitable, much of it was due to certain fragmentations in American culture.

People didn't know what a hierarchy was, outside the family or inside of it, and they lost the meaning. When a hierarchy cannot be established, the organization falls apart.