What is a Godparent, really?
The job description varies. I've heard main responsibilities ranging anywhere from being a strong presence through which a child is brought closer to God to being the adult who would step in as a parental guardian should both biological (or custodial) parents die. Even in today's job climate, I can't imagine people lining up for that position.
I haven't spoken to my Godparents since I was 18. While I do remember them as a small part of my childhood, they signified little more to me than a bonus Christmas and birthday gift combo in December. This isn't because I was spoiled or unappreciative, but because I rarely heard from them otherwise.
My first memory of my Godparents was during a well-intentioned sleepover at their home when I called my mother hysterically crying, begging her to come pick me up. The last was when I was 18 and my father was dying in a hospice. They lived nearby, and happened to stop by for an obligatory visit moments after my father had passed, unaware of their poor timing. Next thing I knew, my Godmother had graciously offered to drive me home and my mother (albeit hesitantly) accepted on my behalf. She spent the 40 minute drive trying to make up for 18 years of disconnect while I wondered how the hell she could chain smoke on the highway in a small car with a teen who'd lost her father to cancer literally moments before.
Today, nearly 20 years later, my lungs still tighten at the mere recollection of that ride. As for my Godmother, I doubt she had any idea how I was feeling. Whether my immaturity for not speaking up or her unkept promise to stay in better touch is to blame, I am unsure. I don't think we ever spoke again.
The Godparent issue didn't arise again until I had my own children. My husband and I were both raised as Catholics. My grandfather attended church daily for much of his adult life. My aunt is a nun and my father studied briefly at a seminary (where he took issue with not being permitted to have his Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated). My husband attended parochial schools and we met at a Jesuit college. We always intended to baptize our kids. That said, they are currently 3- and 5-years old and have yet to receive the sacrament. Why? Because he and I can debate the significance of a Godparent for days, or even decades.
The seemingly most common choice is to have one of the parent's siblings do the honor. My parents did that for both my brother and sister, and it worked out just fine. (An only child, my mother chose her first cousin and his wife as my Godparents.) But isn't being an aunt or uncle enough? I am a Godmother to one of my nieces, and I do not love her any more than I love the other (or my nephew). She doesn't get better gifts, and as she grows, she won't get better advice. I am an equal opportunity aunt.
The second school of thought is to bring someone new into the child's life that wouldn't otherwise have as great a role. I've heard of asking a good friend or mentor, which sounds like a wonderful alternative, until you think about all the BFF's you haven't seen since your wedding day.
Most of us were baptized when our age was still measured in weeks. Whether our parents thought much about the ritual or not, it was an assumed part of the process. Is it still?
Clearly times have changed. I have friends that waited until they were done having children before christening them all together. Another chose two Godmothers, and no Godfather. I know people who have asked the child's grandparent to be a Godparent, which I find to be one of the stranger alternatives, but I'm hardly in a position to judge.
Believe me, my indecision isn't a cop-out. Add to my list of unsolicited parenting advice the time I was told that should a non-baptized child pass away, it will not be permitted into heaven. Do I believe that nonsense? No, but it's not necessarily a risk I'm comfortable taking. And I certainly don't want any of us going to hell because of it.
This post originally appeared on Karri-Leigh's blog, Dirty Laundry & Dirty Diapers.