Sometimes the 'worried father' is the best role to play

I’m a man who’s been blessed with a fine family: lovely wife, fine sons, and a daughter (now 25) who naturally stole my heart on the morning she arrived into this world. I’ve enjoyed the years we’ve spent raising the children to become self-sufficient and decent adults, and though the kids live many miles away, we remain a close family in spirit and relish the times we can be together. I’ve been working away from home and in a recent call, my wife confided in me that my daughter’s boyfriend of just under two years would like to ask me a question. In fact, “The Question” was intended to be popped during my next trip home to visit the family. I’m a rather traditional guy and really appreciate the act of respect. I’ve met the fellow a handful of times, and he seems to be a mature and polite guy, genuine, employed, 32 years old, never been married before, and from my communication with my daughter, it’s obvious she’s nuts about him. Cool.

A week or so later, my wife revealed that we will be blessed with our first grandchild! Nothing too surprising actually, but oops, for a traditional guy, out of the preferred order. Both my wife and I are thrilled at the news of the impending birth, but I’ve a father’s natural concern for the future of the young couple’s relationship, given the level of stress a baby adds to a household. So, two questions: 1) To the request for my daughter’s hand in marriage (which I intend to grant), other than saying, “You betcha,” what sage, exploratory questions should I consider asking? I feel the need to test motives. 2) What can I recommend to the couple regarding counseling to help them anticipate the changes that are about to unfold and healthy ways to grow together over the years? — J.C., Houston

First, gotta tell you: “self-sufficient and decent adults.” Wow. I was struck by the humble understatement. Yeah. Exactly. Self-sufficient and decent. What more could an ambitious mother or father hope for? A tip of my hat to both you and your wife.

And, wow again. Your daughter’s boyfriend wants her hand in marriage, and he thinks he might have a formal obligation to communicate with her father for some reason?! Oh, you don’t get that very often. Not in this modern world.

And, wow, one last time. Not that you get up in the morning caring about whether I admire you, but there’s something I really admire here. OK, the young lovers are pregnant before marriage. But look at you! You breathe through your own discomfort, but you don’t insist they feel discomfort about your discomfort. That was so ... well ... not narcissistic of you! (Given our culture’s runaway train of narcissistic child-rearing patterns, I hardly ever get to type that. So, thanks!)

By “test motives,” I’m guessing you mean more “inquire after motives”? That is, as a loving, wise father, you’d like to ferret out the possibility that either or both of them might now be considering marriage for all the wrong reasons. To wit: shame, social/familial anxiety or some distorted, reflexive sense of “doing the right thing” rather than examining more deeply.

Good man, you speak as a quality, loving father. You describe a healthy history of a healthy family. It seems to me that any guy asking you for your daughter’s hand in marriage is also pretty traditional. Also, he trusts you.

I’m saying that you have a lot of good faith here. I’ll tell you how I’d play it: The One-Down. It’s a strategy wherein I posture myself as subordinate or “in need.” In this case, “Can the two of you give me a moment to be a worried father?”

Then you can just say it: “Please look me in the eye and tell me that neither of you conscripted to marry because of this pregnancy. And please tell me that you understand marrying under these circumstances means both of you permanently surrender the right to bear resentment to this child or to your mate because ‘you had to get married.’

“And, can I just tell you, this baby is going to intrude upon what a new married couple might otherwise be doing for the first six to 36 months of married life. Do you all have a plan to resource and ready yourself for this much more complicated beginning to a life partnership? Will you avail yourself to premarital counseling, etc.?”

They’ll talk to you. And be glad for it. I’m just sure of it.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or