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Asking dad for daughter’s hand has staying power

Although seeking permission from a woman's father is no longer a societal must, many prospective grooms still do it as a way to gain the trust, respect or friendship of their future fathers-in-law.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Adrian Enrique was nervous when he popped the question to Leah Smeenk.

And he had been even more nervous when he sought permission from her mom and dad first.

“I wanted to make sure I did it right,” said Enrique, 25, of Orlando, Fla. “It's a ritual. It shows respect. You just start out on the right foot with the parents.”

Although seeking permission from a woman's father is no longer a societal must, many prospective grooms still do it as a way to gain the trust, respect or friendship of their future fathers-in-law. Some include mothers in the conversation.

In fact, 73 percent of the men who participated in a 2007 survey by Men's Health magazine and TheKnot.com, a wedding Web site, said a guy should seek dad's permission before giving his daughter a ring. Sixty-eight percent of the women who responded said that asking their dad was not necessary, but was OK, according to the survey of more than 10,000 men and women.

Men like the tradition because it gives them a place to start as they plan the proposal, said Anja Winikka, editor at TheKnot.com.

“The proposal is the one thing where he's got all the control,” she said.

Enrique came up with a way to talk to Smeenk's parents before he finalized his plans for how to propose to her. During Jan and Leonard Smeenk's August visit to Orlando, Enrique took them to a jewelry store and showed them the ring he had chosen.

He recalls telling them: “You know I love your daughter very much. As long as it's OK with you, I'd really like to give this to Leah and ask her to spend the rest of her life with me.”

The speech made a big impact on the family.

“They were all ecstatic,” recalled Enrique. “They respect me more because of this.”

Jan Smeenk, of Montoursville, Pa., agreed.

“It was very special,” she said. ”I felt he was showing both Leah and her family respect.”

Randy Burns, 28, also saw a conversation about marriage with his future father-in-law as a way to earn approval — even though they had just met a day earlier.

“It was very awkward,” Burns, of Louisville, Ky., said of the July conversation with Collin Stevens. “I thought it was the right thing to do. He was floored but at the same time I definitely got the feeling he respected me for asking.”

The discussion took "guts," agreed Stevens. “It was a respectful thing to do. I don't think it was a necessary thing to do. If that's who my daughter wants to marry, then that's it.”

Mallorey Stevens, who said yes to Burns a few days later, appreciated the gesture.

“I'm really close to my dad,” she said. “It helped them bond. Now, they have a story between the two of them.”

The custom has come back into favor with a different connotation than it had in the past, said Stephanie Coontz, who teaches family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and directs research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families.

“We're playing with conventions,” she said. “It's totally a formality. How many couples that are in love would accept a no?”

Today, the courtesy seems to signal a man's desire to foster a respectful and loving relationship with his intended's parents, she said.

“People are rediscovering the need to have support networks of friends and family,” Coontz said.

Marty Fleischman said he was "totally shocked" and pleased in 2007 when Brett Berger asked permission to marry his daughter, Shawna.

“It made me feel like I had another son,” said Fleischman, of Dania Beach, Fla. “It showed he wanted to be part of my family.”

When Shawna Fleischman Berger learned about the conversation months later, she was touched.

“It just showed that Brett really valued their opinion and how strongly he viewed their relationship,” she said. “My dad was just so excited.”