It’s our wedding anniversary. Seven years today.
It was also seven years ago that I encountered a significant life challenge, not just by the idea of getting married, but questioning the HOW I will go about getting married. I knew WHY I wanted to get married, but I was quite confused about the HOW.
You see, the way weddings worked for Afrikaans people in the Reformed Church, was quite simple: Man finds a woman, man asks the parents for permission, woman wears white dress and is given away by the father to her new man. Man is head of household and woman is the obedient wife. Man works, woman looks after children, cook and clean, and sometimes has a career of her own, just sometimes.
When it was our turn to decide about our wedding ceremony, we also had to ‘confront’ the way we will do it. Will we do it the way our forefathers (and mothers) did it? If so, what did that mean to us? What are the values of our marriage?
So I looked at the Reformed Church’s marriage sacrament, and I realised I couldn’t make those promises, not to my husband and not to God.
I see myself as a liberal and independent woman whom believes in her intellectual capacity and abilities to make healthy decisions, I did not see myself as an ‘obedient wife’ in need of her husbands guidance or approval. My mom, in her kind way of wanting to help us, asked my childhood minister (from the Reformed Church) to marry us. Before the wedding, the minister and I had an interesting discussion about our beliefs, not just our religious beliefs, but the principles of life we live by. He strongly believed that the man is the head of the household, and the only one that will make the right disciplinary decisions when it comes to the children as well as the household decisions. I of course disagreed, as I believed it’s a mutual responsibility as much as an ability. His argument was simple, and he sounded quite sure of himself: God made men to look after women, and men are the ‘heads’ of a marriage as much as Jesus was the head of the Church. Below is a snippet from the Reformed Church’s marriage sacrament where it describes the roles of the husband and the wife (and a promise they make to God).
In simple terms the sacrament states that the man was tasked by God to be in charge of his wife and to guide, protect and educate her, and that she in turn should be obedient to him and be his help. The husband needs to work to take care of his family and contribute to those in need, while his wife should look after the family and live an orderly life. All of this of course justified by the Bible: she was made from his rib… Below the original text from the Reformed Church of South Africa’s website (search ‘huweliks formelier’):
U moet ook weet hoe die gedrag van die een teenoor die ander volgens die Woord van God moet wees: En dan moet u, man, besef dat God u as hoof van die vrou gestel het, soos Christus die Hoof van sy gemeente is. U moet haar liefhê en verstandig lei, onderrig, vertroos en beskerm en haar as vrou eer. U moet nie teen haar verbitterd word nie maar verstandig met haar saamwoon. U moet ook ywerig en getrou u beroep beoefen, sodat u u gesin eerbaar kan onderhou en ook aan die behoeftiges iets kan gee. En u, vrou, moet u man liefhê, hom eer en gehoorsaam wees in alles wat reg en billik is, net soos die gemeente aan Christus onderdanig is. U moet u man ook behulpsaam wees in alles wat goed en reg is, en aan u gesin en huishouding die regte aandag gee. Verder moet u ingetoë en eerbaar lewe, vir ander tot voorbeeld in deugsaamheid.
Needless to say, the ceremony was a ‘disaster’, yet the day was most memorable and special! We did conform in many ways… I did wear a white dress, to everyone’s surprise, although my mother ‘gave me away’ instead of my father, as my father was present in spirit (he died in 1995). We got married in a chapel and we had a religious ceremony, yet we did it without the marriage sacrament. We had a party and we danced, like one does at a ‘white’ wedding!
We learned from that experience. I learned to believe in my beliefs. I learned that my husband and I are a union of equals, and that we make decisions together. I learned that family is more important than anything else, even if we differ in our beliefs. And I have learned that marriage is hard work, it’s not something fluffy, nor is it a just union of two simply defined and dichotomous roles as regulated by an institution. Marriage is a commitment of continuous negotiation between two intellectual beings by keeping all parties’s best interest at heart… the wife, the husband, the kids, the pets, the house, careers, school, finance… the whole of the family. Family is about core values, but our values don’t have to stem from an institution, I believe it should rather come from the heart, soul, mind and your intuition.
We now laugh about our wedding day. It’s a memory we treasure. I do wish that we rather opted for vows (something Afrikaners didn’t do), our own commitments and promises to each other, although I realise now: that’s what our anniversaries are for! Our vows grow with us.
Here’s to my husband and our two wonderful boys!