This month I decided to write about an event that changed my life: the day I became a Godfather. I am honored that I am able to write about issues on the Feminism and Religion Project but proud that I have the ability to share my story with our readers. Enjoy.
I often wondered why I wasn’t asked to be the Godfather of my niece and nephew. It made perfect sense to me that I would be the best person to guide and provide spiritual care for either of them as I was the only member, in both my family and my brother-in-law’s, getting a PhD in Religion. I didn’t think there would be much to it. I would go, hold my nephew, and watch a priest pour water over his head, and then go and enjoy some very sugary cake in my sister’s backyard.
On August 18th, 2012 my wish came true and I became the Godfather to my sister’s second child, Drew. I had always believed that there was nothing to being a Godfather. That it was a title in name only and a tradition that many individuals bestowed upon members of their family as ritualistic habit rather than a sacred institution of spiritual care and upbringing. Boy, was I wrong.
In various posts housed on this blog, authors discussed their hopes for the future and their wish to change the systems of domination that many believe to be a source of entrapment in specific religious traditions. As an advent agnostic, I always found religion to be an interesting force of social control rather than way of life that some people believe it to be. Becoming a Godfather was more than just a reentry into the Catholic traditions I had long given up but rather a journey back in time that would grant me the ability to rewrite the wrongs I felt as a kid growing up in a tradition I not only didn’t understand but also didn’t feel like I belonged in.
Looking into my nephew’s eyes as he quietly sat in my arms while the priest poured water over his head, I made a wish for my nephew and said my first prayer in a long time:
Dear Nameless Deity,I know I haven’t been the most faithful as of recent but I want you to know that I promise to take my role as Godfather seriously. I understand now that Drew’s journey is just beginning and that I am here to help him along his way. Bestow me with the ability to answer Drew’s questions when he gets older and to be there to guide him through life as a friend in his spiritual journey rather than an authority who dictates instead of listens. Keep him safe and keep him in your thoughts, amen.
I realized that I wasn’t going to be the a-typical Godfather. As a self-identified queer male, I realize that Drew, if raised in the same traditions that I was, would one day have questions not only about faith but also about his Uncle and now Godfather. How would I answer them and more importantly, what would I say when and if he ever asked me if I was going to hell?
While he slept in my arms I came up with 8 rules I promised to live by when and if Drew ever would require the spiritual guidance I was sworn to deliver. I reinvented the tradition to create a better future for my Godson rather than the recapitulate the dominating forces that entrap rather than empower and confuse rather than answer:
- Answer all his spiritual questions regardless of how hard they may be for me and how awkward they might be for him to ask.
- Treat him with respect and dignity.
- Give him the resources he needs to continue his spiritual journey if he so chooses.
- Do not lie to him about the Bible.
- Educate him about various interpretations of the Bible and g-d.
- Go to church or whatever religious institution he chooses to attend without hesitation or judgment.
- Teach him the differences between theological questions and religious ones.
- Love and listen to him, no matter what he chooses to believe or what he does throughout his life.
It is my dream that one day we can create a world with new traditions started by the simple actions of making new spiritual promises rather that reifying old ones. One step at a time and one wish and a prayer later, change may be right around the corner or in the hopes and dreams of a child just starting their journey in their Godfather’s arms.
(Me Holding my Godson Drew and his sister Emma)