Some of my extended family worried that this was not a marriage that would last. It was declared we "would not make it past our seventh anniversary” and it still triggers a sting to this day.
By
Maryam Johnson

9 Dec 2019 - 1:17 PM  UPDATED 7 Jan 2020 - 8:38 AM

Casey and I have been married almost a decade now. We have grown up together and I can't imagine my life without him. 

I don’t often reflect on the precarious time we experienced on the road to our wedding, mainly because I have blocked it out of my mind. But facing our past is healthy, some might even say evolved, so let's do this. 

As a second generation Pakistani migrant growing up in Australia, the differences between me and my parents on marriage and relationships was stark. 

My parents wanted to “arrange” my marriage, as theirs was, to a nice Pakistani boy (preferably a doctor or engineer). Someone who knew the family and how we do things. It was a huge shock, especially to my father, when I told them that I wanted to marry this honest, beautiful, Aussie bloke. 

I was 21 when I had this fateful conversation with my parents. I am now 32 and I still baulk at how brave I was.   The truth was, I did not know that it would all work out.  In that moment all I knew was the dream my parents had for me to marry the perfect man of their choice was being thrown out the window.   

My relationship with my father was tested as his first reaction was stunned anger and then silent brooding.  He wanted to think everything through very slowly, he wanted to know more, make no sudden movements and he wanted to be sure. This reaction from my dad fit him to a tee. 

How do I do everything?  I bluster through my life, create wildly, connect with people, trust my gut and go.  As you can imagine we were at odds, for what felt like forever.  

Some of my extended family worried that this was not a marriage that would last.  It was declared we "would not make it past our seventh anniversary” and it still triggers a sting to this day. 

Everyone was in my parents’ ear about “how would this look?”. They asked, “How will it affect the other kids?” and  ”What will people say?” 

It took two years for everyone to finally come around.  We had a huge Pakistani wedding, with all the food, the colour and the bling you can imagine. Our wedding rituals were very traditional. I felt that my choice of husband was very untraditional so I gave my family free rein with the  intricacies of a Pakistani wedding. 

A Pakistani wedding is normally a multi-event affair, and ours was no different.  Leading up to the wedding we held a party for women called a Mayoun and following that was the Mehndi night which had lots of rituals and dances.  Our wedding reception was held in a large function centre in Sydney.

My dress weighed 7 kilograms, intricate henna stained my arms and feet, and there were 46 bobby pins in my hair keeping a very elaborate hairdo in place under my veil.  The strongest nay-sayers about our union put their reservations aside and came to the wedding to show their support.  Casey’s family dressed in beautiful Pakistani clothes too and celebrated our culture and traditions with us.  Their support and acceptance of me was steadfast from the start, and for that I will be forever grateful.  It was a huge turn out - we had more than 200 people attend, only 50 of whom I actually knew.

It was important to my parents to invite everyone and show the community that they supported us.  We had one funny moment where Casey invited a family friend he knew growing up, who also got an invite from my father as he worked with his brother-in-law back in Saudi Arabia.  This double up made us all realise that this is a much smaller world than we think.   

The family drama and opposition we faced strengthened Casey and my resolve to be together.  It gifted us the awareness to not sweat the small stuff, like my desi penchant of eating toasted fennel seeds which Casey hates.

My parents and siblings have grown to love Casey because he is exactly what a loving husband and father ought to be. He always shows up, helps out, eats biryani and teases everyone. 

I did broach speaking out about my wedding with my dad.  In true Baba fashion, he listened, nodded and said “It is a good opportunity beta (child) ...let me think about it”.   A few days later he said “I know I was not very happy about Casey at the start but that was only because I did not know him yet.  I didn’t know he was going to be like this…He is a good man.  [When you write] all I ask is that you don’t dig up old wounds. Be respectful to your family.”  

I did find it hard to write this piece, I found looking through old wedding photos physically uncomfortable because when I look at my face I can see the strain behind my eyes hoping I am doing everything right, not believing that this is actually happening, and praying it won't all be taken away from me. When I shared this with Casey, he just said, “Babe no one else can see that in your face. You look beautiful”.  

For a love like ours to last it wasn’t just our easy-going nature and love of great food but our deep respect for each other's history, culture and family.  We make the culture clash work because we choose each other every day.

Maryam Johnson is a freelance writer. 

Marry Me Marry My Family explores cross-cultural weddings in Australia. Watch or stream new episodes weekly Tuesdays 7, 14 and 21 of January, 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

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