DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter was proposed to, and has accepted. Her father, my ex-husband, became very angry and upset when he found out, because the young man did not ask his permission before proposing.
While I understand that asking the father for permission ahead of the proposal is traditional and courteous, I wonder if it was required by etiquette in our case. Our daughter is 21 years old and attends college. She only lived with her father full-time, year-round, for about eight of those years.
When the now-fiance asked my daughter if he should talk to her father first, she informed him that it was unnecessary. At no point in 21 years has her father ever mentioned that being asked first was an expectation of his.
After announcing her engagement (to her father and myself privately, and to the rest via social media), she received a few lectures from members of my ex’s family and from his live-in girlfriend. They say she and her fiance have offended her father by not asking permission first, and by not personally informing his girlfriend, and that an apology is in order.
While I can understand that being asked was an expectation of her father’s, I do not believe he has the right to be upset, as he did not convey those expectations ahead of time. I also wonder if, given his noncustodial status and lack of involvement in her current life, it was necessary to ask ahead of time. If you could help me understand what her obligation should have been, I would be most appreciative.
GENTLE READER: Your daughter’s real mistake was not asking her father to pass the phone to his girlfriend. Much of the rest of this could probably have been avoided if she had.
The old-fashioned idea that fathers must be asked permission to “give away” their daughters is certainly problematic in modern times. Miss Manners is used to hearing rightful cries of “She’s not his to give!” and “Why isn’t the mother being consulted?” And in the case of your daughter and her distant father, “Why the sudden need to weigh in now”?
Patriarchal tradition runs deep. But while the reasoning behind the antiquated custom may no longer apply, the act of including family in the announcement of one’s milestones is still important.
Had the young man informed (not asked) you, your ex and his girlfriend of his intention, he could well have avoided all of this. Instead, the girlfriend had to hear about it secondhand -- or with everyone else on social media. Therefore, Miss Manners recommends that with all future milestones -- moving to a new home, pregnancy, etc. -- your daughter make calls to all familial parties and inform them personally. Especially in the case of pregnancy -- however, the intention itself need not be up for discussion.