‘Permission to marry your daughter, sir?’ – Why you still need to ask for her father’s blessing to get married

Asking the father's permission to marry his daughter is hopelessly outdated yet remains an absolute essential part of the rituals of marriage, says Rupert Uloth.

In The Winslow Boy, by Terence Rattigan, John Watherstone asks his prospective father-in-law, Arthur Winslow, for permission to marry Catherine. It was the expected norm of a member of the Edwardian middle classes, as was the discussion about John’s income, but should this still be part of today’s marriage tradition?

Although women now often have better jobs than men and matrimony is about love rather than business, it would be wrong to consider it a continuation of the patriarchal tradition. Asking permission of a father, or at least asking for his blessing, is more about respect.

Lord Egremont has been quoted as being delighted to be asked by both his sons-in-law and considered it ‘most moving’. Indeed, it might also be tactful if your beloved’s Pater is going to be paying for the nuptials.

Like it or not, marriage means that you’re joining another family. You will be meeting them at Christmas and over the font at christenings, so including them in the betrothal, however symbolic, is a good way to start. As a nod to modernity, and, in my case, necessity, as my fiancée’s father had already died, it would be wise to ask the mother as well.

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Keeping romance alive in an age of dating apps and online chats is challenging enough. Asking a parent for a woman’s hand is a gentlemanly conclusion to a courtship.

When I asked my teenage daughter’s opinion, she said it could be useful, if you didn’t want to marry someone, to get your father to refuse permission. Apart from feeling the pressure as her father over any future liaisons, it has to be better than dumping someone by text.