The Un-Godfather

Originally published by The Guy Code on October 16, 2000. Story’s doing great; she just turned five. I saw her just a few weeks ago. She’s a gem.

Hey, congratulate me – I’m a godfather! You can think of this column as me buying you a cigar. If I could see you, I’d ask you to shake my hand. Then I’d blabber to you, in a disjointed, excited way, about an infant you don’t know and I haven’t seen.

If you were polite and had a minute, you’d hang in there, pretending to listen, and try to find some way that any of this relates to you.

Best of luck. I’ll try to help, of course. I want to be polite, too.

My friends Diane and Rick had a baby on Monday, October 9. A little blond-haired girl, seven pounds and change. What do you think of that? Pretty good, huh?

Sure, I know – babies are born every day. They all look the same to you, and the ones who know them all insist this one’s different.

Really, what’s different is how the ones who know the baby now think of themselves. Older people who had been feeling tired, out of touch with the times, on the way out, can now see themselves instead as grandparents, aunts and uncles. People with a job to do for the baby – people who now have a stake in the future. It revitalizes them. They can’t stop smiling, and talking about the source of their joy is a way for them to keep the good feeling going.

That’s how I feel. I’d love it if you’d let me dwell on it for a moment.

Diane and Rick named their baby Story Frances. Nice name, don’t you think? Diane has a master’s in English literature, and as a journalist, she’s forever chasing stories. Now there’s a Story she’ll never stop telling.

Rick’s been looking forward to the birth in his own way. A week ago, he showed me the pager he was carrying. “When I get the call,” he said, “if I’m at work, I’m going to tell my co-workers, ‘Hey – I have to run. My old friend’s coming to visit.’”

As it turned out, he was at home when his wife’s contractions began to increase; there was no need to page.

Rick’s a big fan of the Beatles. It pleased him to learn that John Lennon was born exactly 60 years before Story was.

But enough about them. Let’s talk about me. I’m the godfather, after all. Yeah, just like Marlon Brando. (Yeah, that’s a good impression you’re doing right now. Very nice – thanks for the effort on that.)

Well, it’s a tricky situation, really, because of the religious leanings of Story’s parents.

Who put the God in Godfather?

See, usually it’s Catholic families that request godparents. A godparent’s job is to nurture the child’s faith, particularly in the event that anything happens to the parents. At the infant’s baptism, the godparents answer the priest’s questions on behalf of the baby. The questions are fairly straightforward, such as, “Do you renounce Satan and all his works?” (The correct answer is “You betcha, Padre.”)

Thing is, Diane and Rick were never Catholic. Diane grew up as a Latter-Day Saint. Rick was raised as a Jew. Neither religion embraces the concept of “godfather.”

But it goes further than that. I doubt it would shock their relatives to learn that neither Diane nor Rick is particularly, um, observant. Technically, they’re atheists – although Diane has shown some recent interest in astrology. So you might want to call me the ungodfather. Or the godlessfather.

That works for me. I grew up Catholic, so I have experience with godparents, but I’m not sure I’d qualify anymore to be a godfather under those guidelines. Priests encourage Catholic couples to choose godparents who accept the authority of the Pope; they’re sticklers that way.

So, as the formerly Catholic godfather of the offspring of an unbelieving Mormon and a nonpracticing Jew, what’s my role?

Glad you asked. I was afraid I’d lost you for a minute.

I’m not sure, myself. But I have a pretty good idea of what I might do.

In a memoir called “Between Heaven and Earth,” the Jungian therapist Robert Johnson recalls the influences of various ‘unofficial godparents’ in his life. For Johnson, a godparent is one who guides a child’s inner life. Parents order the external life – when to go to sleep, go to school, do chores, and so on. While they’re busy with that, a godparent can talk to the child about the deeper questions.

That sounds pretty good to me.

But wish me luck.

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