The drive to Heather’s parents was long and tedious. Your nerves were so shot you found it hard to keep the car on the road. Crashing through a guardrail and into a ravine is one way to avoid the inevitable. It was only sixty miles, but it felt like six hundred. When you arrived your legs were shaking and you had tunnel vision.
Then Heather’s mom greeted you with a hug. It was a long forceful embrace. It was unexpected and filled with emotion that she had never displayed to you before. It put you at ease and you wanted it to last forever. You could tell right away that she had accepted you. Heather’s father shook your hand like they do in church, friendly but not personal. One down, one to go.
Dinner was cordial. It was mostly filled with small talk but eventually it drifted to politics. The wealthy always believe that they know everything. The only thing they really know is their own lives. They are completely blind to the difficulties of others. There is tangible arrogance when a rich person decrees that the only reason the poor are poor is because they do not have the will to be rich. Your own father had pulled himself up, but even he would have trouble making such a judgment. You did your best to agree with his proselyting. This was no time to disagree. You considered yourself grateful that everyone at the table was Episcopalian.
Afterwards, as the ladies met in the kitchen, you found yourself alone with Heather’s father in his study. He had been an athlete, an avid outdoorsman, and a colonel in the army before retiring when Heather was ten years old to become a captain of industry or something like it. Your eyes kept scanning the trophies and medals, but it was the mounted animal heads that made you especially uncomfortable. You kept trying to find a way to begin the conversation. You may have even started muttering.
“I know why you are here.” He decided to begin for you.
“The people in this family believe they are good at keeping secrets. They aren’t.” He looks you square in the eye and begins the interrogation.
“You want to marry my daughter. Is that correct?”
“You want my approval?”
“She won’t marry you without it?”
“Yes, sir.” A sinking feeling overtakes you. You can never tell what this guy is thinking.
“Do you have a job?”
“Does it pay well?”
“Will it pay well?”
“If not I’ll get another one.”
“Will you be able to provide my daughter with the lifestyle she is accustomed to?”
“Yes. I think.”
“Do you love her?”
Why did it not occur to you that he would ask that question? You were ready to answer anything he might ask. You could even rattle off all fifty states and their capitals upon command. You know there is no turning back once you say it. The gravity of what you are doing becomes apparent. This isn’t just between you and Heather. It’s with her folks and your folks and everyone in between. If you make this commitment you have to stand by it. You take a deep breath.
“I do love her, sir.”
“Then you have my blessing.”
That was it. It was simple and relatively painless. You let out a big long sigh. You wanted to hug the man, but there was no way that was going to happen.
“You are going to have to be good to her. Heather is willful, just like her mother. If she wants something the only thing you can do is give it to her. Never cross her because you won’t win. I know you think I’m a hard ass. I don’t run this house. I don’t run my own life. Heather’s mother does. Hers was the only consent you needed and she already gave it.”
You find his honestly enlightening and listen closely.
“The key to a successful marriage is to accept that you are not in control. It is a partnership, but it’s not equal. You may be right some of the time. You cannot be right all of the time. Always put her happiness before yours. If you do she will return your affection. If you don’t you will wind up like all those couples who are too proud to realize that the marriage itself is the important thing. All else is distraction. Delores and I have been married a very long time. We’ve never been to counseling and we’ve never really had any fights. I hope that you trust what I’m saying.”
You want to tell him that Heather has been calling the shots since day one and this is a lesson you already know. This is his story though and you want him to know that you’ve heard his message.
“I understand and will follow your advice.”
You think maybe someday the two of you will be friends. You won’t go hunting with him. Hunting is gross. Fishing would be fine.
“You’ll be sleeping in the guest bedroom tonight. I expect that you will stay there all night, alone.”
Progress may be eventual. It is certainly slow.