Getting Father of the Bride’s Permission Before Proposing

Sexist, out-of-date behavior? Or the chance for an important talk?

It started with a phone call. My daughter’s longtime boyfriend asked if he could take me out to lunch. He had never called me before, and we had never sat and had lunch together without my daughter present. You don’t need to be Columbo to figure out what was about to happen. I immediately told my wife, “Justin just asked me out to lunch. Do you think …” I was cut off by what sounded like a loud prayer that started with a tearful “Oh My God!” I didn’t hear the rest of the prayer because my wife ran out of the room to call someone else. Apparently this is a moment you share with a girlfriend, not a husband—not even the father of the bride-to-be.

So, Justin of the Grugeon clan was going to ask me, leader of the Mendte clan, for my daughter’s hand in marriage. Excuse the clan stuff, but that’s how I felt about what was going to happen. In 2011 do young men still ask for a daughter’s hand in marriage? I wasn’t certain how I felt about it.

[SIGNUP]I know they had been discussing marriage. I know that from sitting in the living room as my wife and daughter talked about the relationship, pretending not to listen, like fathers do. I also know that Justin had told my daughter he wanted to ask for my permission, and she asked him not to. So I thought I was off the hook until I got the phone call.

It is a tradition that drips with sexism dating back to ancient Rome when the groom would pass a symbolic coin to the father of the bride. The father would then present his daughter’s hand to be joined in marriage. The “daughter sale” evolved into a non-monetary tradition of asking the father before proposing.

There are many websites with the dos and don’ts for the boyfriend. I couldn’t find one for the father. I guess because my only real role is to listen and then say yes. I know that from reading the boyfriend list of don’ts that include, “Don’t ask unless you are certain the father approves of you.” So I was ready for the lunch, but surprisingly still a little nervous.

We met at the Trolley Car Diner in Mount Airy. My choice. If I had known that Justin was going to pick up the tab, I may have picked somewhere more expensive. Perhaps that was the passing of the coin.

After some chitchat about sports, Justin straightened up and folded his hands. “Well. I guess you know what I am about to ask you.” I smiled. I thought the less I said, the better. “Sir, I love your daughter very much, and I would like your permission to marry her.” And then I watched as my future son-in-law’s eyes filled up.

The lunch was important after all. In that moment I learned more about the young man who was going to be part of my family than I had in the four years he had been dating my daughter. I teared up too and asked, “What took you so long?”

That led to a conversation about finances, family and the future that never would have taken place if not for the “hand in marriage” lunch. I was immediately closer to this young man and proud to have him as part of our family. More importantly, I was proud that my daughter was marrying him.

Stacia is the daughter of my first wife, who also lives in Philadelphia. I suggested to Justin that he also ask Stacia’s mom for permission. He told me that he already thought of that and was going to buy a ring that very afternoon, stop by Brenda’s work, get down on one knee and say, “Would you be my mother-in-law?”

Smart kid.

Justin proposed to Stacia two days later on their fourth anniversary of dating on the steps of The Franklin, the site of their first date.

I now understand the importance of the future son-/father-in-law, pre-proposal meeting. It’s not the question or the answer that’s important; that’s all pre-scripted. It’s the bonding that takes place. It makes me sorry that I never asked for a hand in marriage. Brenda and her father had a strained relationship. And when I married Dawn, she was well into her 30s and I was in my 40s and getting married for the second time.

Still, I wish I had the “hand in marriage” pre-proposal meeting with Dawn’s father. I would call him now, but I’m afraid he would say no.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to