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Meeting The Parents? Scared to Death?

For anyone who’s watched the film Meet the Parents having a father like Robert De Niro’s character would be anyone’s worst nightmare. All fathers are suspicious of the intentions of the man asking for their daughter’s hand in marriage, but using lie detectors and CIA tactics to test the honour and intent of the man asking for his blessing is just absurd..

As progressive as modern society has become requesting parental blessing is still proper etiquette; a tradition that is derived from Roman times when the custom of “joining of hands” took place prior to marriage. The groom would give the father a coin which symbolized a “purchase”, thereafter the bride would be passed on from her father’s hand to her grooms. As outdated as this might seem it’s still a very significant tradition to ask for the blessing of the bride’s father.

The tradition has advanced though and these days it’s more appropriate to ask both parents for their blessing; besides it would be most advantageous for the groom to gain the favour of both parents from the very beginning.

As overwhelming and nerve-wracking as the whole ordeal might seem the principal behind it is a very sincere one. It’s an opportunity for the couple to convey their love and commitment for each other and to bring your partner into the family circle respectfully and courteously. Besides being a good starting point in developing a solid relationship with the in-laws it’s also beneficial in assisting with communication between family members during difficult and troubled times especially when you need to rely on the life experience of your parents.

In most African traditions a custom known as “lobola” precipitates the marriage. Lobola is widely misunderstood as a financial arrangement however it’s more symbolic with deep roots in family values and the joining of two families. The process is often exploited and is seen as “pay-back” for the expensive education of the bride for example.

Traditionally, a set of uncles represents the groom’s family and set off to meet with the brides appointed representatives. These groups engage in a negotiation process that involves some kind of exchange (money, cattle or other goods) but the most important aspect is the process of getting to know each other. This building of relationships between families is very important as it shapes the environment in which the couple will enjoy their marraige and facilitates the lines of communication through which problems can be dealt with as a family.

In this custom asking the parents takes on a whole different meaning. When Luvuyo Nkomo (33) eventually decided to tie the knot, he approached his uncle who in turn initiated the whole process which involved uncles visiting her parent’s home in the Free State. Nkomo comments “It’s interesting now that I think about it. If you had asked me in my teens, I would have told you firmly that I would not subject myself and my partner to this old custom. But having travelled widely and studied and worked overseas, I started appreciating some of the ways we do things. There is a reason why people came up with this method back in the day. And sure the custom may be abused, but then it is up to the individual family to ensure that it is done with integrity.”

He continues “For example, one of my friends in the US would complain about not having a support system in his marriage. Sometimes he would feel like speaking to someone in the family about a problem, but it would be difficult for him to approach a person directly…This is when I realised that through lobola a support system is created for both husband and wife to get older and wiser family members involved.”

The Viking’s had a similar “financial” tradition which involved both the groom’s and bride’s families forking out. The custom dictated that the groom’s family approached the bride’s father or guardian and made an offer. Once the groom’s family paid this “bride price” the bride’s family also forked out a dowry thus establishing a nest egg for the couple – well at least the couple got it all in the end!

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