Twelve months ago today, a child was born in the little town of Sydney, Australia. It did not happen in a manger, he definitely had a crib for a bed, and although a bright light was seen in the sky, it was probably just a passing satellite.
There were wise men in attendance, though, and wise women too – neonatal care is wonderful nowadays.
Now this child, whose name was certainly not called wonderful counsellor, everlasting father or prince of peace, and on whose shoulders the government will highly likely not rest (I’m quoting Isaiah via Handel’s Messiah, for you heathens), is almost certainly not the Messiah. Then again, he’s not a very naughty boy.
The parents of said child are friends of mine, and in their wisdom, or more likely in a state of brain-addled exhaustion, they decided to ask me to be his godfather. Secular godfather, to be precise, which is a clear contradiction in terms but increasingly common in these irreligious days. The clarification was probably wise, because I’m not sure I’d be much help with providing thorough religious instruction.
Traditional godparents are supposed to ensure that their godchildren are brought up in the godfaith, and give them godbibles at their godchristening and that sort of godstuff. But even outside the context of traditional Christianity, it remains a rather lovely, life-affirming concept. As I understand it, my job is to take an interest, offer advice, administer pats on the head when required and be available around the clock to post bail, should that be necessary. It makes me kind of an unofficial demi-uncle.
Today was his first birthday party, so I got to show up with a present, eat some cake and be suitably impressed by how well he’s walking. Which is very well, I’ll have you know. I’d put it down to my outstanding godparenting if there was any credible basis for claiming it.
What I like about the idea of being a godparent, though, is the idea of what’s to come across the broad sweep of decades ahead. The prospect that when there are significant events in the life of the boy, or the man he’ll become, I’ll be there to offer a smile, or a kind word.
I imagine us sitting down to have a chat about which high school to go to, uni options, or whether he should marry his partner, or what he should call his firstborn child (Dominic, or Dominique, as applicable).
It’s a genuinely lovely prospect to have a connection purely based on my friendship with his parents in the first instance, and the relationship that started when he was born. I certainly hope it’s a lifelong one, and since I’ve known his father since the age of 11, the odds are fairly good.
Of course, criminals and godfathers have a long association, and although it wasn’t specified, I’m willing to provide those kinds of godfather services if required in future as well. He’s welcome to come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, if I ever have a daughter, and ask me to do murder for money, for instance. I almost certainly won’t be able to help him, but he’s welcome to ask.
He probably won’t need much criminal mastermind-style help during his toddler years, at least, but if he needs me to organise, say, a hobby horse’s head to be left in somebody’s bed, then I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a theatrical propmaker who can make that happen.
Don Vito Corleone was all about peddling favours to get something in return – as he tells the hapless Bonasera “Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.” But true godfathership is a one-way street. You’re repaying the kindnesses done unto you by the previous generation, and that’s all.
I don’t have any godparents myself, although I am extremely well furnished with fabulous aunts and uncles. And most friends who’ve had children haven’t nominated any. But while in today’s society, godparents are more of a nice-to-have than a must-have, they can certainly be useful. I have friends whose godparents have provided mentorship, emotional support, connections which have led to employment and even references in criminal matters on the odd occasion.
I’d be keen to nominate some for my own children someday, but I suspect whose of us who are not eager that our children follow us into organised religion might need to find a different name for the job. If there’s no intention that we teach our godchildren about the role of god, then the term is fairly meaningless.
Perhaps it would be better to come up with a term like ‘godlessfather’, or ‘nonfather’, or ‘sparefather’? And “father” is a little strange as well, now that I think about it, so the way “uncle” is used in an honorary fashion in Asia might be more apt.
Perhaps there’s a term from the corporate world, like associate uncle, consulting uncle or uncle-at-large? Or maybe one from academia, like emeritus uncle?
It’s too early to know what my role as a godfather, nonfather or emeritus uncle will involve over the course of my godson’s life. At this stage, the main thing I have to offer him is this article full of vague good intentions and promises of assistance with pending criminal conspiracies that I hope any future court will assume is a joke.
But I would hope that in the years to come, if he needs anything from me, I’ll be in a position to provide it. We all need support when we’re making our way in the world, whether it’s attendance at school concerts or a godfather who can use his political influence to protect our burgeoning drug trade. And that’s what I hope to do for my godson, until I sleep with the fishes.