Conrad Jansen sat in his car thinking. He’d just dropped Helene off at her home after office and the usual custom was to return to his apartment for a change of clothes and a quick snack while Helene had her supper. Her parents insisted they have family time with her as it was their custom from childhood children should spend the evening meal together with parents where Father Andres would take out the family Bible and read a chapter with the family settled around the table before they ate.
Andres was of the old school believing children should be seen and not heard and as Helene was now nineteen and working for the past two years, she’d adjusted to quite a different culture in their adopted country. The family had migrated from Europe to escape the aftermath of war with most of infrastructure destroyed and employment opportunities limited. But the result of this had been attempts by Andres to maintain European culture in his family were coming under strain.
Andres had suitable young adults from the old country lined up to be husband or wife to his children when they reached marriageable age and Helene in his opinion should be warming to his choice as it was time for her to be settled in marriage. It had helped to have her salary contribution, but the other children were coming of age where they could leave school and get jobs to make a financial contribution to family income. Helene would become wife and mother in a home of his choice. He felt this was his obligation as a father.
But Helene had not seen things his way and threatened to leave home and join two other office girls who were already established in an apartment and looking for another to help defray rental and utility costs. At first Andres had taken a firm stand and said if she did that, she’d no longer be permitted access to his home and if that was her plan, she should move out right away and not come back. He was shocked when she agreed and commenced packing a suitcase. Her sisters were crying, and brother took a defiant attitude and said if she left. he was going too. Andres’s wife Maria spoke to him soothingly and pointed out in this country children are adults and could make independent decisions at age eighteen. Their reputation in the community would suffer should Andres continue with the hard line he’d taken. Then Maria talked with her daughter asking she be more considerate as her father was really convinced a father’s role was to direct children in the proper path, so they’d make good citizens in maturity. A compromise was reached.
But when this young man Conrad began bringing Helen home from the office each day and then returning to take his daughter to a movie or dance after she’d had supper with the family Andres exploded once more and there was war in the home. Having his daughter go out at night without a chaperone was highly improper in the culture he was raised in and he was horrified to see this host country he was now a citizen of allowed this as normal practice. His family were being corrupted by this country and he began to investigate the possibility of moving back to Europe now that economies there were beginning to take an upturn. He was unaware that Europe had moved on and it was not the same culture he’d grown up in. This alarmed the children who were beginning to fit in and enjoy the lifestyle and even Maria took a firm position against Andres’s plan.
Conrad was an easy-going young man from a good family, and though he couldn’t understand why Andres was so hostile toward him when he come to the door and never invited him in, he’d greet him with respect and ask permission to take his daughter out for the evening. That first time Conrad had been shocked when Andres said no and made to close the door in his face. Conrad had turned to go after wishing Andres a good evening when Helene pushed past her father opening the door and following Conrad to the car. Conrad had argued with Helene fearful the father may be angry with her for defying him and this could cause her grief. She shrugged and opened the door to the car sitting and indicating they were going to leave as planned. It was only then Conrad learned of tension in the home over cultural differences and while he determined to continue their relationship wanted to build that in a way that would embrace her family should the relationship develop into a serious one over time. Conflict was not in his nature, and he preferred to avoid it if possible. But he did watch Helene’s attitude in case it might spill over into the same attitude toward him. Better to know now than discover it after committing his life to her.
But over time he’d become more confident Helene was not naturally quarrelsome but was determined to be just like other citizens of this adopted country and resented her father forcing her into a marriage not of her choice. She’d not tolerate that. He could see her point. They’d been going together for two years now, and Conrad noted gratefully hostility had decreased toward him over that time. He was determined to win the family over and was gratified to see Maria was already showing her interest in him as a suitable person who’d be relied on to look after her daughter if he ever sought their permission to marry Helene.
Helene was anxious to get out of her home environment. She didn’t hate her parents, on the contrary she loved them despite arguments with her father over her adjustment to this country’s lifestyle. So, in subtle ways she tried to nudge her chosen man toward an engagement as she wanted a life of her own without arguments, and years of them working together to build enough money to place a deposit on a home and her own children to pour love on. Conrad was successful in his work and noted as an employee to keep and nurture toward administration. He wanted to have enough saved to offer security to the one he’d choose to be his partner for life and was content to wait longer to do that. Besides he wanted to come to an understanding with Helene’s father, so they’d be free to participate and enjoy that family setting without reservations if a marriage was to be considered.
Now he was sitting outside her home in the car nursing a sore face where she’d slapped him after he’d dropped her home from work. Each of them had determined in their minds to pursue this relationship in a serious way. It was apparent in the attentions they gave each other and the occasional touch of affection. Each had been brought up in conservative homes so had not gone for the expressions of love friends of their age were quite comfortable with, but Helene was growing tired of the status quo. When would Conrad ask her to marry him? Tensions over Andres urgings to consider one of his suggestions as a marriage partner were raising her stress levels at home too. She decided it was time for a resolution as she knew he loved her.
He remembered the scene before she’d slapped him.
“Conrad, do you love me?”
Conrad was about to go around the passenger side to open her door as usual so she could go in for supper, but he spun around in the seat to look at her. “Of course, I love you, Helene.”
“Well, isn’t it time for us to tell father and seek his permission for you to marry me? I’m tired of him constantly recommending men from our country and urging me to consider one of them for marriage. I want you!”
Conrad beamed with happiness. “Your father doesn’t like me Helene but I’m slowly breaking down his prejudice and when I feel we’ll be welcome in your home as a married couple I’ll certainly ask him.”
“I can’t take the stress any longer Conrad. If you really love me, come inside, and ask my father for his permission. If he refuses, then I’ll pack my bags and go live with the two girls from the office who have been urging me to do that for some time and we can get married without his permission.”
“Helene please be patient. Now that I’m sure of your mind I commit myself to you as I’ve loved you for a long time and want us to be together. But I want your father’s blessing and he’s not ready for that yet. Let me work on him some more so we can have a happy inter-family relationship develop.”
Helene stared at him. “I just realized you have no intention of marrying me and are making excuses about wanting my father to like you. What was your purpose of pursuing me these past two years and building up my love for you?”
She slapped him, opened the door, and fled to the house crying while Conrad sat there stunned. He was hurt more internally than the hurt of his face where she’d slapped him. He wanted to get out of that place, but his body was frozen in agony of soul so his hands and feet would not move to the controls to make that happen.
Helene fled to her room under the shocked looks of her siblings and mother. Maria went to Helene’s room and opened the door looking at her sobbing daughter on the bed. She shut the door and moved quickly to sit beside Helene stroking her hair.
“What happened Helene?”
“Conrad won’t ask dad for permission to marry me. He says he wants to break down dad’s prejudice slowly so we as a married couple would be welcome here in future. I did something silly. I slapped him so he probably won’t look at my face again. I’m sure he must have gone and now I see I was foolish and will never have an opportunity to apologize. It is going to be so difficult for us to work together now. I may have to look for another job. I love him mom.”
Maria patted her daughter on the head and went out closing the door behind her. She peeped out the front window and saw Conrad sitting in his car with his head in his hands. She smiled. Then headed out to her husband’s hobby room and in a quiet firm voice admonished her husband. She led him by the hand to the front door and opened it then nudged him through it. For the first time in his life a subdued Andres trudged meekly down the front path looking back at his wife’s resolute face twice as he moved to the gate. He opened the passenger door of Conrad’s car and sat turning to face the young man who’d looked up in startled surprise.
Andres was uncomfortable with what he was about to say but finally spoke. “You are a good young man, Conrad. I’ve watched you over the past couple of years and I’ve come to respect you. My daughter is very distressed because she treated you badly a while ago. I apologize for her bad behavior. I have come personally to welcome you into our house if you are prepared to forgive my daughter and have supper with us this evening. Then if there’s anything you’d like to say to me after our meal I’d be very happy to have the two of you talk with me. Once again please forgive my daughter for her bad behavior. I’d be very happy if you’d accept my invitation.”
Conrad relaxed. “Sir you’ve been kind to invite me, and I’d love to visit with you now.”
The red mark on his face was stinging and he was embarrassed about it but gladly got out of the car and followed Andres inside. Maria busied herself making another place at the table while Andres sat with Conrad in the lounge. He got up apologized and headed for Helene’s room and entered.
“Daughter I have a young man who I can totally recommend you give thought to marrying. He’s sitting in the lounge right now and I want you to meet him. You may not like him, but it is a courtesy to meet him just the same. I won’t urge you but don’t embarrass me by refusing to at least show hospitality.”
“Dad I really can’t at the moment, I’m very upset over something.”
Andres reached over and kissed her on the cheek. He spoke tenderly. “Please dry your tears and come with me daughter. Just greet him and if you want you can return to your room, and I’ll tell him you’re sick and unable to join us for the evening meal.”
Helene sighed and followed her father with eyes averted. She glanced up and gasped in shock. “Conrad!”
She rushed to the lounge and covered him with kisses. She drew back and inspected the big red mark on his cheek then sobbed. I’m so sorry.”
Andres stood with his arm around his wife Maria while the children looked at what was happening and their parents’ reaction in surprise. Andres bent down to kiss his wife then whispered. “You gave me good advice wife, see their happiness.”
He strode over to the lounge to rescue Conrad.
“Children I give you my blessing, I suppose there’s no need for our talk after supper Conrad my future son in law.”
Helene jumped up and hugged her father. “Thank you, daddy, I love you.”
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