Whose Choice?

When I was in high school, my father told me he wouldn’t be in the business of finding a husband for me. He knew other men did it, he told me, but he wouldn’t. Why? For two reasons: First, because I, not he, was the one who would have to live with the guy, and second, because if things turned out badly he didn’t want to have to live with the guilt of having chosen wrongly for me. He told me that I would need to find a husband myself.

That said, my father also gave me a list of requirements and told me that any man who did not meet them would not receive his blessing. In other words, if I found a guy who wasn’t up to snuff, dad wouldn’t okay him. That, though, was the only role he would play. Rather than finding a young man and bringing him to me, my father would be the gatekeeper, essentially, through which any man must pass to gain my hand.

I was actually a bit saddened by this, I have to admit. I loved and trusted my dad so much that I would have said yes to him arranging a marriage for me, and I told him as much. I figured that any man my father chose would have to be good for me, because my father was such a wise, discerning, and godly man. I daydreamed about the day my dad would bring a young man to me and tell me that he had found someone who was my match even as I knew it was not to be. In retrospect, I am of course very glad that my dad refused to think of such a thing. At the time, though, an arranged marriage seemed so safe and romantic.

I digress, though, from the point of my post. I think my dad had a point when he said that he wouldn’t choose a husband for me because I, not he, was the one who would have to live with him. It seems strange that my dad would espouse such an idea and then not take it to its logical conclusion – that I should be allowed to marry the man I chose, regardless of any list. I, after all, would be the one living with the results of my choice. It seems to me that there was a disconnect there, that my father was willing to take this idea only part of the way. He trusted me, but not enough.

I think this raises an important point. Who will be the one to live with the prospective husband, the father or his daughter? The answer is obvious. If the daughter is willing to take the risk and marry a guy, shouldn’t the father okay the match? It’s not his life we’re talking about here – it’s hers. If the guy turns out to be a shitty husband, it is the daughter who will have to live with it, not her father. Ever heard of the phrase “you made your bed, now lie in it?”

I’m not saying parents shouldn’t give input when their children are choosing a spouse. What I am saying is that that input should be limited to advice that can be accepted or not and that the daughter should be allowed to make her own choice and then live with the consequences of that choice. A daughter is wise to ask her parents’ judgment of a prospective suitor, but she is foolish to allow them to control a choice that should be hers.

This practice of the father choosing a man for his daughter, either through an actual arranged marriage or, more likely, a highly guided courtship, seems to me to betray a lack of trust. It strikes me that these fathers do not trust their adult daughters to make intelligent decisions. But I ask you, if a father has had his daughter for eighteen, twenty, or even twenty-five years and yet failed to help her become a trustworthy adult, who does that reflect badly on? I’ll give you a hint: not the daughter.

In our society, parents have eighteen years to guide and shape their children, with the goal being to make them into trustworthy, independent adults. That’s it, just eighteen years, and then all bets are off. At age eighteen, young adults are allowed to make their own decisions and either fly or fall. Parents step in only to give advice, which they know may be either accepted or rejected. Young adults may make mistakes, but ideally they learn through these mistakes and become better people and more stable and healthy adults. This is the world Christian Patriarchy seeks to reject, primarily for its daughters but also to some extent for its sons.

In place of independence, Christian Patriarchy seeks to impose permanent infancy on its children, especially its daughters. In many cases these daughters are never even trained to be independent people in the first place, for that is not seen to be their role. Women, Christian Patriarchy teaches, are to be dependent, not independent. Women must have their decisions made for them, first by their fathers and then by their husbands. This is why fathers of Christian Patriarchy so often feel the need to make decisions for their adult daughters regarding their future husbands, decisions no ordinary American would even think of making.

But I say, what about trust? What about growing up? What about living with the consequences of your own decisions and learning through mistakes? What about life? Fathers, please don’t do this to your daughters. Once she turns eighteen, take a step back and let her make her own decisions, whether about marriage or about their future life goals. Trust her – after all, you’ve spent the last eighteen years training her. If you cannot trust your adult daughter to make her own choices in life, the problem is with you, not with her. Yes, she will sometimes make decisions that you disagree with and even decisions that hurt her. But she is the one who will have to live with them, not you! Stepping in and trying to save her from pain by making her decisions for her only makes things worse, because ultimately, it’s her life, and she needs to be able to make her own decisions like any other adult. It’s called growing up.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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