At the time I was dating my wife, I was a white guy (still am, in fact) without a whole lot of earning potential. My now-wife was a Chinese-American (still is) with a promising future and another Chinese-American medical student waiting in the wings to be the man in her life and provide material comfort and security. Along comes Tim Dalrymple, head honky, whiter than white, studying philosophy and religion — which is roughly the professional equivalent of self-disembowelment with a volume of Foucault. My plan was to attend seminary and then a doctoral program (read: be thoroughly poor for a long time, in order then to be poor for an even longer time), and although I had studied a little Chinese and made a couple ventures to China, clearly I could not possess a deep understanding of Chinese culture. Needless to say, and not unreasonably, they preferred the med student.
I had a muddled conversation with my now-father-in-law in which I sincerely believed he understood that I was asking whether I could request his daughter’s hand in marriage. He did not know this was what I was asking. His answer – “It’s not like I would disown her” – was all I thought I could ask for, and I took it. Armed with the knowledge that I would not be separating my beloved from her family, I asked her to marry me, and in a moment that must either be miraculous grace or a monumental miscalculation on her part, she agreed.
I knew her father wouldn’t be pleased. But hey, I figured, she’s an adult. It’s her decision. It’s her decision — and her parents, I thought, didn’t really have a say in the matter.
Holy cow. Did I really think that?
Now I understand how western that perspective is. More importantly, I understand what it’s like to be the father of a daughter. So I have prepared in advance (my elder daughter is now 4) this public letter to any young man who should ever wish to propose to a daughter of mine, which I think must also represent what my father-in-law was thinking but too kind to say:
You Craven, Cretinous Man-Child,
First of all, get your hands off her. No, no, don’t smile at me. I’m not joking. Take your grimy paws off her shoulder, her knee, or even her hand. You do not deserve to touch this girl in even the most innocent way imaginable, so please stop pretending you do. Remember, I was a guy like you once. I know what you’re thinking. I know what you’re always thinking. You may be able to fool my daughter, but you cannot fool me, so kindly remove…
There. See? We can be reasonable. Now let’s talk.
See, Jerk, this is the thing. I was there when she was born. I was there when she drew her first breath, there when she made her first cry, there for her to hold my finger while they scrubbed her clean of the blood and the detritus of birth. I was there. I watched everything they did, watched over her every moment, and made sure she was safe and wanted for nothing. I prayed for her, made sure she was still breathing, and dressed her.
I was there. I was there for her when she was crying at night from milk allergy and colic and reflux. I was there at 7pm, when she cried from the milk burning her esophagus, there at midnight when she cried again, there at 3am when she cried again, each time holding her for an hour, singing to her, rocking her, shielding her sobbing body against my chest. I was there to give her bottles and there to soothe her after the bottles. I was there many times a night, night after night, week after week, month after month. I probably spent every night with her in the first year of her life. I let her sleep in my arms in the recliner when it was the only way. I let her sleep beside me when it was all that would stop the crying. And even when I was not with her alone, I was supporting her mother, who was giving all her strength for her little girl.
I was also there the first time she smiled, the first time she laughed. I taught her how to crawl. I taught her how to walk. My wife and I taught her how to eat, for goodness sake, and I was there to make sure she didn’t eat the wrong thing or choke. I was there to hold her when she fell and skinned her knee. I was there to hold her when her stomach ached — or when she bumped her head — or when she was tired — or when she just felt like having a good cry. I put her to bed every night for years upon years. I’ve prayed with her thousands of times and for her many more thousands of times. I was there when she had allergic reactions and we had to rush to the store for Benadryl.
(Were you there, by the way? Oh that’s right. You weren’t there. Neither were you there to change the 1500 diapers she produced each year, nor to wipe her nose, nor to bathe her (don’t even think about her naked right now), nor to make sure she was warm when we went out in the winter.)
I was there when my daughter had a seizure from a fever-spike. I held her stiff little body as her eyes rolled back in their sockets; I was there when her body grew supple and life-like again. (You — let me see if I remember — no, you weren’t there.)
We were there as she got sick time and again in her first winter and in her second, there when the sore threat kept her from sleeping, there when the congestion made it hard for her to breathe. I was there to take her to daycare and to school, and to pick her up from school as well. I was there to teach my daughter her first words. There to reach her to read. To count. To add. To recite the days of the week, the months of the year, the states of the union.
I have always been there for her. I’ve paid for 99.9% of all the food she’s ever eaten. I’ve paid for 99% of the clothes she’s worn. I’ve paid for her schooling, her soccer league, her karate classes, her gymnastics classes, her summer camps, her violin classes, her Chinese classes, her field trips, her dances (ugh), her car, her nights out with friends (when I worried the whole time). I’m the one who has slaved and sacrificed so that she could have all those things. (You? Not so much. Not at all, really.) She may find it romantic when you offer to pay for one meal. Try 15,000 meals. She might think it’s nice when you sacrifice an outing with friends in order to spend a quiet day together. Well, try almost every day for 18 years. I’ve worked and worked to provide for her. And I’m still providing, as I’ve paid a king’s ransom to send her to college. (And no, taking her out to Red Lobster on a date does not qualify as “providing” for her.)
Listen, Monumental Idiot, I’m not complaining. I was happy to do all these things. It was my privilege. My honor. She’s worth more to me than life itself. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
But this is it in a nutshell. This is my daughter. My DAUGHTER. Can you understand that? Of course you can’t. So I’m trying to give you some sense of what she means to me, how dearly her happiness matters to me. You are far, far more ignorant than you can appreciate right now. So I’m trying to get some vague sense of the magnitude of this matter through your thick Cro-Magnon skull. You feel special because you’ve been together for a year. We’ve been together her entire life. I really do know her better than you do. I know too that marriage is far harder (and far better) than you can now grasp. I know that family dynamics, cultural dynamics, run far deeper than you know. I know that parts of her that lie hidden when you’re dating will come out when you’ve been married for one year, or five, or fifteen. And I know the same is true of you. And I know what a dirty rotten scoundrel you are to start with.
Mostly it’s just that — I was there. I’ve been there all along. The amount I’ve given for her is ten thousand times more than the amount you have given for her. So don’t try to reason with me. Don’t give me a theological argument. I’m just telling you what I feel. You may be an excellent young man, the finest on the face of the planet — but we both know that’s not saying much. If you ask for my blessing, I may give it. You may be the best of all evils. But after thousands upon thousands of hours of holding her, tending to her, comforting her, thousands upon thousands of hours feeding her, sheltering her, shielding her, thousands upon thousands of hours teaching her, challenging her, elevating her, don’t tell me — DON’T TELL ME — that I don’t deserve to have a say in one of the most important decisions in her life.
God gave this girl to me to protect. Maybe she’ll be yours to protect one day. Today, she’s still mine. And right now I’m protecting her from you until I’m good and ready. So keep your hands in the air and back slowly towards the door. We have your number. We’ll call you when we’ve figured this out.
-Your Worst Nightmare if You Should Hurt Her