Things were simpler before they invented love. Once upon a time, if a young man was interested in a young woman, he would simply seek out the girl’s father and say, “Do you mind?” The father would say “Be my guest,” and everyone would walk away happy. Not the girl, necessarily but this was also long before they invented equality.
Sometimes a father might demand something of the lad. It might be gold or a heifer or a light massage. Or it might be a quest. The more complicated or dangerous the quest, the more worthy the successful suitor would prove himself to be. It’s from this notion that the idea of romance was born, and later, love, and later still, reality television.
These days a father might be satisfied knowing his daughter’s suitor can hold down a steady job and has not gone overboard on the tattoos. But I like the idea of a young man proving himself worthy.
My wife and I met at university in New Brunswick, and after a couple of months of serious dating and less serious schoolwork, we hopped the train to visit her family in Sherbrooke. During that first long weekend, my future mother-in-law asked us if we wouldn’t mind washing the kitchen ceiling. We were happy to do it. My future brothers-in-law, however, were appalled.
“She made him wash the ceiling!” they say to this very day when this story gets told around the table, along with the story about the time I scaled the wall and crooned a New Kids on the Block song through the window to one of the brothers. But that was a different weekend.
Back to the ceiling: no one made me wash the ceiling. We were asked and were glad to help out. More important, it demonstrated that I was easygoing, that I was handy with a rag, that I wasn’t sensitive to the solvents (thus ensuring the prospect of hardy offspring), and that I had courage, namely the courage to stand on tippy chairs. I proved myself worthy, Deb’s mom got a clean ceiling and her brothers got a story to tell. Everyone was a winner.
Fast-forward 25 years. Just before Christmas, daughter Katie brought home her boyfriend for the first time. No doubt the visit was prefaced with a lot of warnings: “We have cats. And a dog. And you might not want to sit on the sofa in new pants. And there are random rolls of toilet paper around the house, but it’s okay; they’re mostly for allergy purposes. Also: my parents.” And so on.
If visiting the Murray house wasn’t already intimidating (and somewhat of a health risk), we had also somehow signed up Katie that first evening to serve hors d’oeuvres at a Christmas party. Somehow we said her boyfriend would help out too.
“They made him serve at a reception where he knew absolutely no one!” our family will be saying for years to come.
No, we didn’t make him. He could have easily stayed home and read the graffiti wall in our kitchen. Wait: didn’t Katie mention the graffiti wall? Instead, he gamely accepted the challenge. He did something he didn’t want to do and he did it without complaining. That boy’s going to make a fine husband someday.
This particular quest was purely accidental but I’m thinking of making them a regular part of the meet-and-greet repertoire. As the father of three girls, I expect I’ll have ample opportunity.
“Hie thee hence and fetch unto me the golden hair of the antediluvian llama that guards the fiery Portal of Qkwaam and also the sundry missives in the Mailbox of CanPost, being sure to jiggle the key because it’s tricky.”
“Yon litter box doth need de-clumping. See to it. And yon litter box also. And also that one yon as well.”
“An English major, art thou? Dost thou feel capable of a columnistic enterprise of a humoristic bent, say 650 words, forsooth? Tarry not, for the deadline is nigh. Like noon.”
That’s the beauty of quests: you get to use old-timey language, not to mention abuse your position.
And what about the girls my son brings home? Do they need to prove themselves worthy? Am I not perpetuating some kind of double standard? Listen, I come from a long line of Murray men who are just happy to have a girl talk to them, so I’m not about to scare one off.
Besides, my son will already be doing a quest for the girl’s father so I wouldn’t want to double up; I don’t do re-quests.