Tell Me About It
(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
By Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007

Dear Carolyn:

I am planning to propose to my girlfriend. Tradition has it that the male ask the female's father for his blessing. But I wonder if there is some exemption to this "rule." Her dad is, for lack of a better word, an [unprintable synonym for jackass]. He argues and gets into major verbal fights with my girlfriend's family constantly. I am very uncomfortable during these blowouts. Even my girlfriend doesn't like him most of the time.

Should I still get his blessing? Would it be appropriate to ask her mom, or maybe her older sister, whom I have much better relationships with? Should I just not ask?

-- M.

Don't ask anyone anything unless you and your girlfriend have been thoroughly open -- and openly thorough -- with each other about the implications of her volatile home. First things first.

As for the blessing, tradition is tradition because society says it's so. Our society has had much to say recently about one man asking another man to hand over a woman, and not much of it printable.

Except this: Her life, her call.

You know her, I hope, well enough to know what she'd want. It's her relationship with her father/mother/sister, as well as with her culture and with tradition in general, that will make the difference between a gesture that's sincerely moving or seriously weird.

Of course, if she admits her relationship with her dad is miserable but would like you to do the permission dance with him anyway -- for auld lang syne, for family peace or just for the camera -- then do it.

Without her wishes to justify it, though, you would be not only giving a gratuitous nod to the paternalistic bad old days, but also performing a ritual of respect for a man you just called an [unprintable]. In the interest of sparing the world even one needless slap to the forehead, please feel empowered to take a pass.

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