Popping the Question (to her Father): A Study in Fear- guest author Ethan Bartlett

 

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Fear is weird.
The most fear I’ve ever felt was during a conversation.
I admit I’ve not had that adventerous a life. Where friends
and students of mine have been in the military, in actual gunfights with people
on the other side trying to kill them, or been in the Peace Corps and literally
lived in a hut with no plumbing or running water, I’ve spent most of my adult
life as a professional English major. I read things, and I write things, and
some of the things I read I put a grade on.
What I’m saying is, I haven’t done all that much to be
afraid of.
Two of my scariest experiences come from the summer I spent
at camp. I remember chasing a kid through the woods on a 90-degree day, knowing
the kid had asthma and knowing, too, that I did not have his inhaler, trying to
keep up with my runaway and call my co-counselor to bring his inhaler
simultaneously. Another time, swimming at the lake, a kid went limp in my arms.
We managed to get the runner his inhaler literally in the
nick of time, and the kid who went limp was faking it (making the experience no
less traumatic for his counselor, let me tell you). And while I felt fear at
both of these times, I didn’t feel that much fear. Later I didn’t feel like I had
felt enough.
But maybe that’s understandable: at both times I
subordinated the fear to my desire to have the child survive.
Another time I remember feeling fear is when I first asked
Karen to go out with me. This was a little bit ridiculous, because she had made
it quite clear for quite a while what her answer would be were I ever to ask
her.
Scene: We’re lounging, side-by-side, on an obscure set of
steps at our undergraduate institution. It’s about one in the morning. We’ve
come here after theater rehearsal, and have been talking for rather a long
time. A silence falls.
Ethan: Karen, do you want to date?
Ethan’s Inner Monologue: ohshitohshitohshit
Karen: [Silence.]
Karen’s Inner Monologue: Say yes! Say yes!
Karen: Yes.
Ethan (realizing he has left her an out): Do you want to
date me?
Karen: Yes.
Ethan: Are you sure?
Karen: Yes.
During that bottomless period between the ask and the
answer, an impressive number of thoughts managed to go through my head: what if
she knows that I fart when I sleep? What if she just today had a revelation
that she actually isn’t interested in me and decided to go out to Hollywood and
snag Liam Neeson? What if she’s just figured out she’s too good for me?
Fortunately for me, she apparently hadn’t had any of these revelations,
and she didn’t jump at any of the outs I gave her. But, up until this point,
this was the most fear I’d experienced in any interpersonal interaction.
Fast forward through the long story of a break-up, a
reunion, and a tacit agreement that Karen and I were both in the sort of mental
situation which would make a marriage agreeable. Lying in bed, one night,
thinking out what would have to happen before a proposal (where the hell was I
supposed to get a ring, anyway?), I got to a point that sort of made me feel
like I was falling forever: I realized I would have to ask her father.
I don’t know why this is such a terrifying sensation for
guys, but based on the random sampling of guys I have asked (approximately
five) I can only conclude that this is a universal feeling. Dads are scary.
Certainly I can understand it in some cases. I wouldn’t want
to ask Brett Favre’s permission to marry his daughter. Han Solo should consider
himself just very luck that Vader died before that became an issue for him. Not
that I would want Karen’s dad to die, or anything. He’s a very nice man.
Logistics were a problem: Karen has been living the last
several years in the midwest, and her parents live in Colorado, and we are
poor. Phones exist, yes, but there was something about the idea of having that
conversation on the phone that I just didn’t like. Phones can be terrifying all
by themselves.
Over the new year, Karen and I managed to scrape together
funds for plane tickets, and to get time off from, between the two of us, four
jobs, and we went out to visit her parents for several days. The time was
lovely, and her parents were very nice and very generous, and I had an
excellent time.
Except there was this big cloud of fear, too, lowering like
a storm front at the back of my mind. As may already be apparent, I am
excellent at coming up with terrible theoretical scenarios. On its own, my
brain had busily devised every possible objection her father could raise. I had
broken up with Karen once, after all, and who was I anyway to go around
marrying people?
Karen’s parents’ house is very nice, but relatively small.
Not crowded, by any means, but when you are trying to have a conversation with
only one out of four other people happen in a sort of natural way it becomes…
apparently difficult. I look at pictures from our days there, big sweeping
mountain-pocked vistas backgrounding shots of us with our arms around each
other, and while I am certainly happy I can also see the fear-thoughts
backgrounding my expression: What if he says this, What if I mess up and say
that, yada yada.
I finally managed to catch Karen’s father alone. I finally
managed to spit out my question, though I literally felt like my lips were
going to give out asking it (how this would work, I have no idea). Immediately
I backed into a thing and knocked it over and we had to spend about three
minutes picking it up. I was laughed at. About two sentences later, he said
“Yes.”
About two weeks after that, so did she.
At the prospect of putting together a wedding, actually
being married, spending the rest of my life with one individual person, I am
strangely calm.
Maybe I got all the fear out here at the start. Or sometimes
I think the fear was just a marker, showing me how much this was really what I
wanted, how afraid I am of losing something that it would be pretty easy, if I
were foolish, to take for granted. I’ve found I don’t conquer fear. I live with
it, get past it. I make it a friend.
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Ethan Bartlett graduated with a Master’s in English Studies at Minnesota State University-Mankato in the spring of 2013. He is getting married in the fall of 2014, and still looking for something to do with his degree.

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