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.
(Me Holding My Godson Drew, my mother holding my nephew Brady, and my niece Emma dancing)
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)
7 thoughts on “8 Simple Rules for Being a Queer Godfather by John Erickson”
Eight good rules! What does the “advent” in “advent agnostic” mean?
I want to congratulate you on being the most well intentioned g-d father I have ever heard articulate what it means to him/her (let’s include g-d mothers here too) what that means. Too often people say “oh sure, I’ll be this or that” without ever giving thought to what that might amount to over the course of one’s life time. Any number of things might happen.
I wish for you and Drew and Drew’s siblings a wonderful relationship of challenging and enlightening conversations about the faith journey and complete acceptance of each other’s choices along the way. May your lives be enriched by this journey together and may each of your faith journeys be enriched by the questions and answers that challenge you along the way. Rev. Elizabeth L. Hill-Sainio, Delray Beach, Florida.
Hi John —
How wonderful to become a spiritual companion to an infant whose life you will witness and affect — positively, I’m sure. I feel like I’ve arrived at a similar place in my life. My nephew, who has grown up very much like the second child I never gave birth to — just had a baby, the first in the next generation of our family. When I first saw the baby, I brought a poem to give to his parents, but when gazing into his eyes, I said it out loud as a blessing. That was sweet, and seemed like a promise to myself and to him to be a spiritual companion on his journey. I’m not at a point in my life where rules are helpful, but I think all of the rules you created for yourself are a part of what I hope to give this child, above all love and acceptance. Thanks for a wonderful post.
Beautiful! And congratulations, John, on your lovely nephew/Godson!
Congratulations John. Really nice letter….well said. Love you.
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