On Being A Godfather

“Godfather” is a term that I have observed can mean many things, each often unique to the person who uses the word, either in referring to some man, or a man referring to himself in the context of someone else’s progeny.  It is a loaded term, and can connote many things on several levels of relationship.  Many years ago, before I became a godfather to first one, then five, then six children, I did not give any thought to the meaning, and just assumed it was a man who had entered into an obligation by agreement to watch over a child or children of another man should that man die, so the children would not be without the protection and guidance of a man in their lives.

That is, I suppose, one basic meaning.  However, as I discovered through my own experiences going on three decades,  being “this man” to six children, all young enough to be my own grandchildren, a godfather can be anything a father can be – except if the children still have their biological fathers somewhere in their lives, with at least some good connection – he can not be a substitute father.  All of my godchildren have or had some degrees of relationship with their fathers, and all three of those fathers I also had  some acquaintance.  Two of their fathers accepted me, although somewhat begrudgingly early on, mainly because I was able to give to the children materially what they were unable to.  However, when they were able to see that I was not trying “to steal” their children, eventually they warmed.  The third father even told me on more than one occasion that his daughter was just as much my daughter, given that I had played a direct role in her upbringing.  Hearing that from another man, to say the least, was touching.

As I said, as their godfather I never could fully be the same as their father:  the blood relationship, sometimes a potential, a longing in the child’s heart, to be closer to their father, is powerful and runs deep, and I have learned over the years that it is not my place to try and supplant their fathers.  It took time, a lot of trial and error, some disappointments in my heart when at times I forgot my place and wanted to be the “real” father, but knew I could not, or just by their talk or behavior, I knew I could never be their real fathers.  At times that really hurt, but the lesson in all this for me was to understand the true virtue of giving unconditionally, and not to assume reciprocity of the kind one may wish for.  This has made me a better human being I do believe.

While I could write a book about my experiences as a godfather – a white godfather to six black children, which makes it even more challenging – I will leave the reader with the thought that there are so many, so very many, children who need a responsible male in their lives, who can be there when they need a man in their lives, to share in their fun and laughter, to eat with them and show them how to wash the dishes, to encourage them in their schoolwork, show the girls how a real man should act, show the boys how to fix a broken bike….all those million things that help any child form their lives for becoming adults.  The man does not necessarily have to have a lot of extra money to buy presents, although I can say that being a godfather pretty much requires having at least some extra funds, or sacrificing, to provide a child what they need when they need it, just like a parent would.  And who are the mothers of children who need godfathers, or some male role model?  There are so many single mothers with children who need that help with their children.  How does a godfather relationship begin?  Well, an infinite number of ways.  All I can say is that a man who wants to be a father-figure, to help build a child’s life, should just be open to the universe with that thought in his heart.  Often, that latent wish will indeed be fulfilled.

There is a caveat however:  at times a godfather may feel very lonely, for there will be times when his heart yearns to be the real father, but on occasion must give way to the biological father’s own heart strings, or the fact that the child’s real mother has the final say-so in some parenting decision, which cannot be violated.   In those times, he will have to seek solace, knowing he is doing his best under circumstances.

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