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August 7, 2007

Father Knows Best

Lauren Wilson allowed her father to orchestrate her engagement.

Lauren and her father, Randy.

Photo Credit: Amanda Marsalis

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Lauren Wilson allowed her father to orchestrate her engagement; he counseled total abstinence before the big day. Writer Amanda Robb thought Lauren was crazy — until she met her.

Lauren Wilson Black, 22, is the kind of kitten-faced, minx-bodied all-American beauty who could break a dozen hearts with one bat of her silky lashes. But until last winter, Lauren had never seduced a boy into misery delicto — or even flirted. She’d never had a lover, made out in a guy’s car, pressed against a boy during a slow dance at the high-school prom, or even been to a prom. Call her the anti-Lindsay/Paris/ Britney. She was a super-virgin. While the rest of us spent our youthful years pushing the limits of what could be done in backseats and bar bathrooms, Lauren stayed home. Weird, you say?

Actually, not really. Six years ago, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that one in six Americans between the ages of 12 and 18 had taken a purity pledge. That is, they vowed to remain virgins until marriage.

Among those virginity pledgers, courtship has become the trend du jour. The brainchild of Josh Harris, a 33-year-old Christian evangelical and author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, courtship is the antihookup. No nooky. No commitment flake-outs. No playing the field. You see a stranger at the local mall or church barbecue, and then — if you both feel that certain spark — he asks your father if he can “court” you. Lauren’s parents, Randy and Lisa, are on board, to say the least. In 1998, they founded the Father Daughter Purity Ball (think prom meets wedding reception). The formal event is attended by hundreds of teenage girls and their dads. After dinner and before dancing, the fathers sign an agreement — as the “high priests of the home” — to be their daughters’ “authority and protector in the area of purity.” In 2006, Purity Balls took place in 48 states; next April, the Wilsons will host New York City’s first-ever Purity Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria.

I met the Wilsons while covering the Colorado Springs Father Daughter Purity Ball, which takes place at the city’s five-star Broadmoor Hotel. To put it plainly, I was fully prepared for Randy, Lisa, and their children to be the biggest freaks I ever met. The concept of premarital virginity seemed archaic enough; the image of a father monitoring his daughter’s sex life was fairly revolting. So I was nothing short of astonished to find the Wilsons likable.

It was through my conversations with Randy and Lisa about their Purity Balls that I developed a fascination with Lauren. Homeschooled since kindergarten and absent a college degree, Lauren experienced joys (feeling popular) and woes (being ostracized by friends whom she introduced!) that were nevertheless extraordinarily similar to those of my own — or, for that matter, most people’s — adolescence. Still, when she was 13, Lauren decided to do something I could never fathom doing: give her heart to her dad so he could “save” it for her husband.

“I was just like, Why hang out with a guy, break your heart, hang out with the next guy, break your heart again?” Lauren says, when I ask her what she was thinking the day she told her dad she wanted to be a virgin until marriage. Randy is a sinewy man, who, in his khakis and polos, dresses the part of laid-back Westerner. But his grave blue eyes and careful, sonorous speech bespeak unstinting seriousness. The day of her announcement, he penned this letter:

Dear Son-in-Law,
By the time you sit down and read this, your wedding day will have passed . . . I know we have had long talks about Lauren, but let me write them down . . . Lauren’s heart is overflowing with love and care for others. She is unselfish almost to a fault. She waits for your leadership and will respond to you accordingly. Lauren has great inner strength and physical stamina, but she will need your God-given strength to function. She wants to please you like no other. Most importantly, Lauren needs your spiritual leadership. She needs you to take her to the throne of God...
Love, Your Father-in-Law

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