Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.
I have been seeing an Egyptian girl of the Baha’i faith for about one year. It has gotten serious enough that she decided to tell her father that she was dating me. He started to ask her questions about me and the “what religion is he” question came up. She was honest and told him I was an atheist. To say the least he wasn’t happy. She said that he didn’t seem to dislike me, but the fact that I didn’t believe in a god at all was the problem. She said he believes that if we were to start a family that it couldn’t work with one believer and one non believer. That the children would get confused and not know which parent to believe was correct. And that they would want to go towards my side because not believing is easier than following the rules of a faith. I tried to tell her that if we had children I would not interfere if she wanted to raise them in her faith and that I respected and supported her beliefs. I even go to services with her. But this doesn’t seem good enough. She said he wanted to know why I don’t believe and I said that I just didn’t, I have been like this since I was little, that the idea of a god just didn’t make logical since to me, but again that wasn’t good enough. I need help! She is ok with my beliefs and knows I would never try and change hers! But in her culture and religion she will not go against her father! She told me that if he told her to not see me she wouldn’t see me!
It is not clear where this is happening, in Egypt or somewhere in the West. I suspect the latter. Where the girl lives makes an enormous difference in her options, but in this case it does not matter. She has left the decision up to her father regardless. From your name I assume that you are not Egyptian. She says that he didn’t seem to dislike you, but he may privately have political, national, cultural or ethnic reasons to disapprove of you besides the issue of atheism. So even if you had religious beliefs that were acceptable to him, he might still have objections.
From what little I have read about Baha’i Faith, one of their very positive sounding principles is respect and equality for women. However, I may have been reading a Western version of their creed, and religions absorb the social attitudes of the local cultures wherever they take root. In places where women are told what to do by men, and fathers are the final authority in families, the culture will usually prevail, regardless of what the religion says. Even when people emigrate, it can take a few generations to adapt to the new culture.
I commend you for being forthright to both of them about your not believing. Since you already go to services with her, it could be tempting for you to lie to her father and even to her, saying that you do believe, just for expediency. However, in the long run that would be a mistake. A relationship that will last is one founded on honesty and openness. Deceit is toxic to love.
Since you do go to services, the two of you might consider consulting a senior leader there, telling them the situation and asking for any advice or help that might appeal to her father. I have no idea how this would be received or if it would be workable.
Now, I am going to say this with deep respect and sincere caring, knowing that I am dealing with very tender feelings, but I think it is important to look at this openly. There is a great deal of the girl being the intermediary in this exchange between you and her father. You are being told about doubts and objections that are attributed to him. One thing you should do is to gently but frankly ask her if she is having her own personal doubts. This has to be very difficult for her, and she might be using her father to deflect the responsibility for her own misgivings. If you and she have already discussed this candidly, that is good.
If you are satisfied that this conflict is really only between you and her father, then if it is at all possible, go directly to the source of the problem and give it your best shot. Go to her father and talk to him man-to-man, giving him all the reassurances that you have stated here. Offer him what he as a father would need, to know that his daughter will be honored, nurtured and protected. You must look him in the eyes when you tell him what is in your heart, and he must see that you expect him to look you in the eyes when he tells you what is in his heart.
Understand the man as best you can through the lens of his culture, and remember that for almost all fathers, having a daughter means having your heart running around outside of your body for the rest of your life. You will discover this terrifying condition when you have your own daughter, as I did.
Be prepared for this: Your promise to him that you will “not interfere” with her raising future children in her faith may not be good enough because his culture may (I don’t know) expect you as the father to be the primary religious authority and teacher of the children. If you took a back seat to your wife in this particular duty, she would have to fulfill it as if she were a widow. You will need to have something to compensate for that. I don’t know what; perhaps your girlfriend will have a suggestion.
While on the subject of children, another thing for you to consider is that your easygoing feelings and her easygoing feelings about your future children being raised as Baha’i may change when those children are actually running around your feet. I have seen this several times before, where a mixed couple has no conflict about kids until they are no longer hypothetical kids. It is very difficult to know what your future feelings will be, but sometimes the experiences of others can give you some warning.
Hopefully her father will hear your case and will give you a conditional approval. If his answer is no, then do not fight it for too long because that will pull your girlfriend in opposite directions. Definitely do not urge her to see you behind his back. That would cause her much suffering in her conscience and in her relationship with him, which up to now has apparently been very honest. Your most loving gift may have to be to spare her pain.
Robert, Your letter ends with an ambiguous “if.” She has clearly said that if he told her to not see you, then she would not go against her father, her culture or her religion. End the ambiguity one way or the other as soon as you can. Get a yes or a no. Enjoy being together openly, or say goodbye, grieve, move on, eventually heal, and find love anew.
I earnestly wish for all three of you, young man, young woman and father, the joy of love. If it is the love of the three of you having found a way together, wonderful. If it is the love that each of you have found in your separate ways, then still it can be joyful.
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