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A decent proposal?

Should you ask her father before you pop the question? A new survey by wedding planning website The Knot found that 77% of British men sought their prospective father-in-law's permission prior to proposing to their loved-one - up from 74% in 2013. Two Belfast Telegraph writers explain how they tackled the thorny issue.

BBC Radio Ulster presenter Ralph McLean (46) is married to fellow presenter Kerry McLean (41). The couple live in Ballymoney and have three children, Tara (9), Dan (7) and Eve (1). He says:

I am the father of two beautiful little girls. Their names are Tara and Eve and they are - how can I put this without coming across too Disney? - well, they are my princesses basically. Doesn't get much more Disney than that, does it?

I mention this fact because I can't ever imagine having some hairy-handed nit take them away from me at some point. In fact, I can't even bear to consider the idea of letting a would-be boyfriend over the threshold of my house.

I'm the sort of overly protective dad who bristles with barely concealed anger at the mere thought of a boy so much as talking to my eldest daughter at school. My daughter is 10. I know I have a problem.

Since I've had children of my own, I've developed a protective nature that seemingly knows no bounds. I'd fight to my last breath for my son, Dan, but I'm not worried about him in the same way. It's the girls I fret about. I'm getting annoyed about it right now actually.

As I cradled my first-born, Tara, in the delivery ward of the hospital, I remember saying to my wife that if any spotty little Herbert thought he was good enough to come around my house and take my daughter out, he had another thing coming.

Kerry gently reminded me that, since my daughter was a mere matter of hours old, it was something I didn't really need to worry about just yet. I realised I needed to take the fear-inspiring dad persona down a notch.

To be honest, when I think about how uptight I am about the subject of boyfriends and prospective romantic partners for my girls, I almost feel sorry for the unsuspecting saps who will darken my door in years to come. You will note I say "almost", of course. In reality, I'm quite happy to have them quaking in their little bovver boots.

I just know, when the fateful day comes and I'm left looking at the nervous little teenage boy sitting on my sofa waiting for my daughter to come downstairs, that Kerry will be the one offering tea and smiles, while I'll be the moody, monosyllabic monster brooding quietly in the corner. I know I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I just can't help it.

Given how emotionally fraught I get at the very thought of my girls leaving the protective bubble of the family home, I can only guess how Kerry's poor dad, Sean, must have felt when I appeared on the scene, hell-bent on marrying his cherished youngest daughter.

I'm sure he must have felt, deep down, that no one was good enough for his girl. I know I would have if I'd been in his shoes.

Kerry was always very close to her dad and their bond was clear for all to see. When a father-and-daughter relationship is as strong as that, who'd want an interloper from Lisburn coming in spoiling it? It's to his credit that he welcomed me into the family fold the way he did all those years ago.

I didn't officially ask him for his daughter's hand in marriage - for some reason that just seemed a little too old-fashioned a concept to comprehend at the time - but I do remember heading over to his house with Kerry to break the news to him and the family.

I remember all the joy, laughter and hugs that arrived that night when we announced that we were setting a date. Everyone was so positive and happy and, from that moment, I've never felt like an intruder in the family circle. I now know how hard it must be watching your little girl move on in her life. It's a tough ask for any good daddy to deal with.

Sean is no longer with us, but the relationship I had with him as his son-in-law was amazing. He was a true friend and an inspiration to me as fatherhood came calling at my door.

I still can't bear the thought of anybody taking my daughters out, though."

'We did not even think to ask for permission... her hand was not his to give'

Malachi O'Doherty (65) is a freelance writer and broadcaster and is married to Maureen Boyle, a schoolteacher. The couple live in Belfast. He says:

I didn't ask Maureen's father for her hand in marriage for the same reason that she didn't ask my father for mine. She is a feminist and I am trying to be one, so we rejected the idea that one man would seek permission from another to marry a woman. Her hand wasn't his to give, nor indeed mine to take.

We didn't even consider seeking permission to marry. Maureen was in her mid-30s and I in my mid-40s. If we hadn't been asserting independence by then, we never would.

We planned the wedding ourselves; booked the hotel in Donegal and even designed the invitations with poetry extracts and printed them at home.

One reason why fathers are still asked for permission, of course, is practical. The girl's father has a say, because he is expected to pay. We planned to cover the whole cost, though her parents contributed generously, anyway, without being asked.

Her father had been putting money away for his children's weddings for years.

On the day we told them we were getting married, we went first to Donegal and bought the rings and then went to show them to them. They were both thrilled.

Her mum wanted to go straight away and tell Father Doherty and get him to check his diary. We assured her that wouldn't be necessary.

That was a shock for her.

A big one.

"Would you not even think of going to Pat Buckley?" she said.

The wedding reception in a Ballybofey Hotel was like a taste of stardom. Everywhere we turned, there were people smiling at us and taking our pictures.

Perhaps having a big day, surrounded by warmth and approval is not the best reason for getting married, but it isn't the worst.

Her father had been a primary school headmaster in Tyrone and was recovering from horrible surgery when I first met him, so his being able to deliver a speech at our wedding was a sign of recovery.

He was good at that kind of thing and spoke of a sense of having already known me from the radio before we met.

He described the pleasure of meeting the man with the "tutti frutti voice" and that got a laugh. I can't imagine why. Was he confusing me with Eamonn Mallie?

At Maureen's brother's wedding a few years later, he picked a gorgeous little biblical quote devoid of all theological complication, "And the Lord said, It is good that we are here." It was.

He took a close interest in my progress. Every time he saw an ad for a job for a journalist, he would send it to me, never quite reconciled to the idea that I really did prefer to be freelance and self-employed.

Perhaps if I had come to him with such an insecure employment pattern and asked for his consent to my marrying his daughter he would have withheld it, or set a condition that I get a proper job.

When we had decided to get married, we were already living together in a flat we shared in Belfast. I think even he, by then, would have been long past calling that "living in sin".

But we knew other couples who were more coy with their families about their living arrangements.

We made no secret of ours, though when we visited her family, I slept on the sofa and didn't complain.

Marriage cleared the way for me to enter the bedroom, but it still felt for a time like trespassing, though without the thrill of risk-taking. Maureen kept her family name and I kept mine.

She is Ms Boyle to her pupils and she was the first teacher in her school not to have her name changed on her pigeonhole after getting married.

Christmas cards arrive still for Mr and Mrs Malachi O'Doherty.

I find her name useful sometimes, too, and will answer if addressed, as I often am, as Mr Boyle.

I don't think we were revolutionaries overthrowing tradition. In fact, the decision to get married in the first place was conservative.

We could have gone on living together and the only real inconvenience would have been that I would still be sleeping on the sofa when we visited her mother.

Maureen's father died a couple of years after the last of his offspring was married.

When he was ill towards the end, I saw how much Maureen loved and needed him, that there was a relationship there that was older and deeper than our own.

I hadn't gone for his formal consent to marrying his daughter, but if she, having measured me against him, had found me wanting, she wouldn't have had me herself."

Three well-known men on proposing...

Pete Snodden (37) is a Cool FM DJ and lives in Bangor with his wife, Julia, and their daughters, Ivanna (6) and Elayna (3). He says:

Before I proposed to Jules I asked both of her parents. I chose a night when I knew Julia would be at a concert at the Odyssey, then phoned her parents and asked if I could come and see them. I nearly got busted — I had told Julia I was staying in for the night but as I drove out to Carrickfergus I passed one of her friends who was on her way to join her at the concert.

Thankfully I texted the girl and told her not to ask why, but that she hasn’t seen me that night so she didn’t blab.

I think Jules’ parents knew what was going on — what other reason would there have been for me to come and have a chat with them when Julia was out of the way? I just arrived and asked them for their blessing. They said ‘of course’ and just asked when I was going to propose — it was a couple of weeks later when we were on a trip to London.

It was important for me to ask her parents — I just felt like it was the right thing to do. And I like to think that if my daughters ever get engaged then I’ll be asked the same question, although that’s a long way off. It might be a bit old-fashioned but for me personally it is a sign of respect and it wouldn’t have felt right to just propose out of the blue.

I don’t think parents in this day and age would ever say no to any prospective son-in-law, though admittedly I hadn’t considered that possibility. If you’re going to ask then you would probably know if there would be any objections.

One of my best friends has just got engaged and I told him to go and ask. I think his fiancee’s parents appreciated the gesture.”

Michael McKillop (27) is a gold medal winning Paralympian. He lives in Randalstown with his fiancee Nicole Martin. He says:

I had bought the ring and everything was ready to go — until I realised I needed to ask Nicole’s dad for permission. I had to get Nicole’s mum to help me before I could ask her dad’s permission. Her mum called us both up to the house and then took Nicole off to clear stuff out of her own room. I went to the kitchen to have a cup of tea with her dad and asked him while the kettle was boiling.

He told me that as long as I treated her like they had treated her for her whole life then he didn’t have a problem with it and shook my hand.

I didn’t think he was going to say no to me, but I felt that I had to ask him — I have a good relationship with Nicole’s parents so asking for her hand in marriage wasn’t too daunting. I think it’s a way of showing respect but also Nicole had told me if I didn’t ask her dad then she wouldn’t say yes when I proposed!

Whenever you genuinely want to marry someone it’s important that you show respect to their family. Parents have brought up their child  and they want to make sure they will be looked after for the rest of their life. That’s the understanding I have with Nicole’s dad.”

Harry Hamilton (49) is part of Queen tribute band Flash Harry and lives in Lurgan with his wife Heather and their daughters Brooke (18), Lucy (17) and Tianna (13). He says:

We got married in 1994, so it was rather a long time ago. I wanted to ask Heather’s dad for permission to marry his daughter and both Heather and I felt that it was the respectful thing to do. Mind you, I had a big group of mates at the time and I think most of them thought that I was being very old-fashioned.

I asked Heather’s dad after I had asked Heather if she would marry me — in fact, she was there when I was asking for his blessing. I wasn’t nervous because at that point I knew the family well and didn’t really think he would say no. He paused for a second before he said anything — a pause during which I did wonder what he might be thinking — but then he said yes. I think he was wondering why we had decided to get married at that point.

I have three daughters, each with a boyfriend, and I would like to be asked when the time comes — though I think it’s a little early for any of them to be thinking of getting married.

Having said that, I like to think that I’ve instilled enough common sense for them to make the right choice.”

Interviews: Kerry McKitrrick

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