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Daddy's Girl: Courtship and a Father's Rights

Any man seeking to beg, borrow or steal a daughter's hand without her father's endorsement is seeking to gain, in unlawful ways, "property" not his own.

  • Sarah Faith Schlissel,
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I've been Daddy's girl from Day One. My first word was "Dada." I've always wanted to do what Daddy was doing, go where Daddy was going, read what Daddy was reading, say what Daddy was saying. We have the same sense of humor, preferences, pet peeves, strengths and weaknesses — even the same allergies. Little wonder people call me "Daddy's Little Clone." I mean, take a look at the picture heading this column! No wonder that, for fairness' sake, in family votes, our two are counted as one.

But does this exhaust the ways in which I might be reckoned "Daddy's girl"? Beyond being an X-chromosome donor, may we think of the "-'s" in "Daddy's" in the possessive sense, and affirm with legitimacy that Daddy is my owner? That "my heart belongs to Daddy" is certainly true. But do daughters, per se, belong to their Daddies?

The answer to this question will bring us the answer to the propriety of courtship as a model for a daughter's pre-marriage relationship with a prospective suitor. For the crux of the courtship question is not empirical, but principal. I define courtship as the discovery of a life-partner for a daughter under the direct oversight of the father. Any man seeking to beg, borrow or steal a daughter's hand without her father's endorsement is seeking to gain, in unlawful ways, "property" not his own. Daughters are Daddy's girls in the objective sense, and this particular daughter rejoices in that truth. I am owned by my father. If someone is interested in me, he should see him.

This might sound harsh. "Ownership" makes some cringe. Okay, okay. So call it "authoritative stewardship." But for many, this is not much better. "What are you talking about? This courtship stuff may be nice (up to a point), and I agree that dating is unwise, riddled as it is with temptations — but hold it a minute there, sister! Are you saying that you're just a piece of property? How could you think of yourself in those terms? You need some serious help with your self-esteem there! Get real! Get with it! This is the 90s!"

Yes, it is grating to our ears. However, let's not dismiss the idea without examining its merits. The Christian worldview, informed by Scripture, functions as our spectacles. Through the Bible, we see the world as it is; and no part of life is exempt from God's governance. We want to live in accord with his law even if it means living in (uncomfortable) opposition to popular culture. Everyone committed to advancing God's kingdom must be prepared to live against the norms of unbelief. Culture and custom which begin with God's word will inescapably conflict with culture which begins with the word of man.

And the word of God teaches that progenitors have certain rights. Let's use that as our major premise and construct a syllogism. Major premise: The creator of something is sovereign over that which he created. Minor premise: God created all things. Conclusion: God is sovereign over all things. This agrees with Scripture: "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it, for [i.e., because] He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers" (Ps. 24:1). God created it; therefore, he has full authority over it.

This same truth is variously expressed in Scripture: "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own. . . ?" (Mt. 20:15). The potter (Rom. 9:21) has a right to do with his creations as he sees fit. Put another way, to generate something is to have an implicit sovereignty over it. We happily concede the fact that human ownership is always second order ownership under God, the only absolute Sovereign. Nevertheless, God has made explicit his will that parents, as the immediate generative source of individuals, are to be revered for that very fact, and the rights of parents are to be honored, by children and society. (It is not to be wondered at that our generation speaks only of women's rights and children's rights, whereas the Scripture speaks of God's rights and parents' rights.)

I don't feel qualified to discuss the role of sons, but it seems clear that there is a peculiar relationship between the father and the daughter. Since a daughter is, by the grace of God, always under authority — there being a transfer at marriage from a father's to a husband's — daughters are "Daddy's" uniquely. While he must raise his sons to be loving husbands and fathers who make houses possible, he raises his daughters to be submissive, godly wives and wise mothers, to make houses homes. He raises a son to be a provider; he raises a daughter to be provided for.

Proud independence is no noble goal for a woman, and the spirit which pursues it is no part of a godly girl's trousseau. Of course, those who exalt independence, denying headship to a husband, will certainly deny it to a father. Thus, they find the idea of courtship offensive. But those who acknowledge that God's way is right (Lk. 7:29, 35) find the idea of "authoritative stewardship" quite pleasant!

The very first question of the Heidelberg Catechism is this: What is your only comfort in life and in death? The answer is matchless: That I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. Sinners find this answer repulsive. "Not my own? That's no comfort! That means I can't do what I want!"

Well now, isn't that the whole issue? We don't want to feel like we're owned, because we want to do what we want to do. It's as simple as that. We know that whoever owns us has authority to determine our comings and goings, and each of us wants to be his own boss. It is thus no wonder that sinners cringe at the concepts involved in courtship.

But saints are those who are obliged to come to terms with authority structures which come from the hand of God. And because earthly authorities are themselves under God's authority, we acknowledge that no daughter is obliged to obey commands from any source bidding her to sin. Yet some would seek to use this concession by arguing, "What if God tells the girl to do something that her father doesn't approve of? What if, for example, the LORD reveals to her, through various signs and feelings, that she is to marry a particular man? Wouldn't God's will for the girl supersede her earthly, mortal, imperfect father's will?"

Simply put: No. As strange as it may sound, in the peculiar relationship of the father and daughter, God, as it were, takes a back seat. God has created a hierarchy such that the daughter is directly answerable to her father, and her father then answers to God. This doubles the father's responsibilities, because he must account to God for the way he raises his daughter.

The father's ownership, of course, is an in order to thing. God has given the daughter to the father so he can raise her in the fear and admonition of the Lord, protect her from harm and want, protect her from other men, and sometimes, protect her from herself, even from foolish decisions she might make on her own.

Numbers 30 provides help in understanding God's view of the father/daughter relationship. "If a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself by an obligation, in her father's house, in her youth, and her father hears her vow and her obligation by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every obligation by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father should forbid her on the day he hears of it, none of her vows or her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand, and the Lord will forgive her because her father had forbidden her."

In that scenario, a daughter has solemnly promised something to the Most High God, who has no superior. The father then hears of this vow, and on the day he hears of it, forbids her, saying, "No, Miriam, you may not do temple service on the 15th of Adar; we have to visit our relatives in Be'er Sheva that weekend." And the LORD will forgive her because her father had forbidden her. So much, then, for "God told me to disobey you, Daddy." Throughout Scripture, daughters are given in marriage; they do not give themselves and they may not be taken.

If we're understanding this properly, just think of the impact it has on courtship. In modern "dating," the girl is seen as belonging to herself. Therefore, it's a logical conclusion that any man who wants to be romantically involved with her has only to ask her permission. But if it's true that the father owns (has lawful authoritative stewardship rights over) his daughter, then the young man must seek the father's approval. It's not simply up to the girl. This changes the tone of any relationship there might be. If it's the father who must give his approval, the young man knows that he is being watched, and he has to prove himself worthy. God has given fathers a lot of insight into the character, impulses and designs of young men. Flowers and sweet words might win the daughter; but Daddy's a man, and it's a lot harder to pass Daddy's tests. Further, a godly father is aware of his daughter's capabilities and needs, and can often see more clearly than she whether a young man is a complement to her and whether she can aid him in his calling. The order of God, as indicated in his word, is that God himself defers to the will of the father when it comes to his daughter. God says, "You heard your father. The answer is no." Thus, the will of the father regarding his daughter IS the will of God.

So I really am "Daddy's girl." And no man can approach me as an independent agent because I am not my own, but belong, until my marriage, to my father. At the time of my marriage, my father gives me away to my husband and there is a lawful change of ownership. At that point and at that point only, I am no longer bound to do my father's will. Instead, I must answer to my husband. If you read the rest of Numbers 30 you will see that this is the case. Notice that there is no intermediate point between Daddy and Hubby. There is no "limbo land" where the girl is free to gallivant on her own, "discovering herself" as she walks in fields of gold, apart from any defining covenant head, doing whatever she sees fit.

You might not sneeze in sync with your Dad, or laugh at the same jokes. Maybe you're exactly like your Mom, or an even mix of both your parents. Whatever the case, I hope you see that objectively, you are no less of a Daddy's girl than I am. My responsibility as a daughter is simple: to do the will of my father on earth, and in so doing, to do the will of my Father in Heaven. Courtship is but one instance where the rubber of Scripture meets the road of life.

  • Sarah Faith Schlissel

Sarah Faith Schlissel, 19, is pursuing her MBA at Pace University in New York while working full-time as an analyst at a well known financial institution. She is the administrator of The Courtship Ring, an Internet ministry of Messiah's Congregation (write to [email protected] for info). Prospective suitors with $100,000 or more on hand may contact her Daddy.

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