Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Intended Consequences of an Old Spaniard

A few days ago, I asked my father-in-law how he met his wife. He told me that he was in the Air Force stationed in San Antonio and a buddy invited him to go to dance. His wife, who was in nursing school, attended the dance as well along with some of her friends. He saw her. They danced. They talked. And, he was smitten instantly and they started dating.

He also offered that soon thereafter she finished nursing school and moved back home to live with her parents in a little south Texas town called Mission. Since he was still stationed in San Antonio, he would make the long ride to see her every weekend that he could. Well, after a few trips to her home, he received a long letter from her father, who he called, “the Old Spaniard.” Interestingly, the letter was written in Castilian, which is formal Spanish and, although my father-in-law was fluent in Spanish, he needed help to translate it. In any case, he told me that the letter—despite its length—asked him a simple question: “What are your intentions with my daughter?”

He told me that he was not surprised by the question and, actually, he expected to be asked it at some point. Therefore, he knew that he needed to answer this important question well and quickly if he was to continue to see his beloved. So, on his next trip to Mission, he was on a “mission,” and he sat down with the Old Spaniard and told him that he planned to marry his daughter. And, he did.

Since this conversation with my father-in-law, I have thought often about the power and the purpose of the Old Spaniard’s question and how it forced my father-in-law to be publicly accountable for his intentions. The Old Spaniard wanted to make sure early that my father-in-law didn’t think that his daughter was an “amusement park” and he had a free ticket to ride. Nope, there were not going to be any “unintended consequences” because admission to his daughter’s heart came with a specific price the needed to be paid in advance.

Sadly, today too many fathers aren’t “Old Spaniards” and I believe that their daughters and their sons are worse off for it. Consequently, if you ask dating couples about their relationships and intentions, they tend to use terms like we’re “hanging out,” “chillin,” or “just kickin’ it.” Or, they will say that “we are just friends with benefits.” One of the problems is that these “benefits” too often turn into children who need good parents with firm intentions about raising them. Just imagine how few unintended pregnancies and unloved children there would be if more fathers asked the simple question that the Old Spaniard did.

Case and point, a few years ago, I counseled a couple who had gotten pregnant as college seniors. They were having big problems because the father was essentially abandoning his responsibilities and moving on with his life, while the mother was at risk to not graduate. Not surprisingly, the mother was furious.

As I began having conversations with them separately, it quickly became apparent that there was not, and never been, an Old Spaniard involved. You see, they were having premarital sex. However, she always believed that the father was the kind of guy who would marry her and build a family if they got pregnant, but this was never his intention. And, he thought that she was the kind of girl who would quickly get an abortion if she got pregnant, but this was never her intention. Now, they were both in a difficult long-term parenting relationship that neither wanted--whether they intended to have it or not.


  1. Great blog! Engaged fathers can make such a difference in preventing unplanned pregnancies (which often lead to abortions.) Pastors and church leaders should teach the theology of sex and marriage, and convene honest conversations about preventing unplanned pregnancies and abortions. The National Association of Evangelicals' Generation Forum has many helpful resources (

  2. Thank you for sharing a very inspiring story! The blog left me wondering: Intended or not and regardless of the type of relationship, how do more parents effectively share responsibility for raising healthy and productive children? Given the reality facing many children, this is the question we must address as a society.

  3. Socially, it is expected that the father should take the role of the "Old Spaniard". However, in these days of single parenthood, either by choice or consequence, I believe it is important for both parents to take on the role of the "Old Spaniard". Actually, whether married or divorced, both parents should actively hold their children's romantic partners and their own children accountable for their intentions. Perhaps 'unintended' marriages and pregnancies can be avoided.

  4. A quaint story that has some merit but utltimately, in my view, misses the mark of helping young people with managing their romantic relationships. While parental, and familial elder's influence on younger people is clearly lacking most of the time in today's young adult's lives, the problem for fathers with "Old Spaniard" stories (and there are likely many such stories) is that there is an implied regidity of roles that historically have done neither gender any good whatsoever. A woman's intentions are irrelevant, and a man's intentions are inherantly questionable. At the root of the question from the Old Spaniard is that, of course, he knows exactly what the young man is thinking about with his daugther (sex) since that is what he thought a lot about when dating as a young man himself. Of course he thought a lot of other perfectly normal and healthy things as well (love, companionship, happiness, security, comfort, family) but all that is washed away by the supposition that men have a two feelings and only two feelings - lust and anger. So the father-in-law ignores all that and cuts to the chase. Ofcourse, how many young men have told the fathers of their dates exactly what the father-in-law wanted to hear, the stereotypical "nothing but honorable intentions, sir" knowing full well that they still wanted to have sex with the daughter, albeit alongside other perfectly normal and healthy activities and feelings. I think fathers, and fathers-in-laws, and especially their children, would be much better served to ask young men dating their daughters, or young women dating their sons, questions (plural) like "So, how're you feeling about going out with my son/daughter so far?" and "What kinds of plans, if any, have you all talked about?" Ofcourse, that changes the entire nature of the relationship and implies some comfort on the father-in-law's part with the autonomy of his child, something that is much more important to for a young person to have in navigating their romantic relationships than fear of retribution for having a perfectly normal full range of feelings, including sexual feelings, feelings the "Old Spaniards" (us) of the world know full well.


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