Having Godparents is a peculiar custom enjoyed by Roman Catholic Italians, although to a minor degree by other religious groups as well. These people are not parents at all but instead are usually close personal family friends.
The Catholic Godparents are present at the Godchild’s baptism at which time they are supposed to promise to ensure that the child will be properly raised in the faith, and/or to adopt the child if the biological parents die before the age of emancipation.
In the Jewish faith the Godparents are supposed to be present at the time of a male child’s circumcision; which may account for why a great many Jewish parents simply skip over this obligation, which conveniently lets their friends off the hook, so to speak. Watching a baby get anointed in oil is far easier to stomach then watching the end of his penis being guillotined.
My brother’s Godparents certainly did not set an ideal example for him as Aunt Margaret committed suicide. Also as neither she nor her husband Nick were able to successfully parent their own son, Skippy, much less possibly be required to take on my brother if my parents died; this would have created a circumstance that may have caused Uncle Nick to cash in all of his chips as well.
So much for also ensuring that any of us would be properly raised in the faith either, as not one of our Godparents ever once fulfilled their other obligations by calling the house on any given Sunday to see if we were going to church; or on a Wednesday to see if we were going to Catechism.
Knowing how my mother did not like anyone interfering in any of our family’s personal business anyway, that interlocution would have gone over as well around our house as going to a party and finding the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.
Therefore, all this custom really boiled down to was a rote mindless adherence to another outdated religious ceremony whose original purpose has been lost, and for our family, the ability to then call someone “Aunt” or “Uncle” when in fact they were not at all related to any of us. As a child, it took me years to figure this one out.
- No. They are not really your Aunt and Uncle, but it makes us feel better if we call them that anyway.
- Oh. OK. That explains everything, then.
Old fashioned Italians corrupt it even further by in lieu of stating the title in the pure native language “Cumpa or Cumpari” meaning friend or protector, come up instead with the guttural iterance of “Goombah” and “Goomah” when addressing the revered fraternal and maternal personages. This terminology never made any sense to me at all but only made for more inane perfunctory back slapping ceremonial stupidity when they meet each other on the street or at a holiday function.
- Hey, Goombah. Howya doin’?
- Fine, Sallie boy. Hey Goombah to you, too. And by the way: how’s the little Goomah doin’? Cookin’ ya good food?
- Not so good, the food.
- No. Whatsa mattah, then?
- She’s a Texan. She fries the pasta.
- Ga-bless-shoe you then. I’ll say a prayer for you.
Goombah, Goomah. All day long.
Of course everyone is aware of the vernacular implication of someone having a Godfather protector in an organized crime family. This is a very special kind of Godfather who is best to be avoided at all cost; especially if you are not one of his own flesh and blood, or if for some unknown reason as a soldier he happens to call you in for a private meeting.
I was given my Godfather’s first name as my middle name, Nicholas. This was not the same Nick who was my brother’s Godfather, Skippy’s dad.
My Nick, a successful Orthodontist, was actually a nice, tall, husky gentleman with a great sense of humor, a sonorous deep Basso-profundo voice that filled a room when he spoke, and an even a greater sense of self-confidence. He was also someone who never seemed to lack for cash, being always very generous about gifting to me especially at Christmas time.
He lived in an upscale neighborhood in Norwalk, Connecticut, with his wife and three children who for reasons I could never determine, for the most part ignored my brother and me whenever we visited. I suppose it boils down to the plain and simple fact that they did not like us; or equally as likely because his daughter was older and the boys liked to play touch football; whereas Larry and I could have cared less about their passion for this particular pastime, much less care about an ‘older woman.’
In fact, I still can’t throw ‘the pigskin’ because my hand is too small to wrap around the goofy thing, usually resulting in a perfect end over end instead of a perfect spiral. This flaw thankfully eliminates me from being chosen for any pick-up game or being a potential groom for any woman in the John F. Kennedy bloodline.
These factors made the visits a mixed blessing because I wanted the expected gifts but then had to spend the rest of the day bored out of my mind; while uncomfortably knowing that my “cousins” were equally bored by the facts of both our physical presence combined with our mutually incompatible likes and dislikes. They just went about their own business, while occasionally paying us some parentally forced polite lip service.
Uncle Nick more than made up for it because he stirred an interest in stamp and coin collecting as hobbies that kept my adolescent mind preoccupied, although when I lost a great deal of money on both endeavors as an adult, I somehow wished in hindsight that he had kept those interests to himself.
But the best interest he cultivated as a hobby that has served me well over a lifetime, was the passion he had for billiards along with his subtle ability to get me addicted to the game.
Years after my ability to artfully run these 15 small smooth balls into their equally small 6 receptacles on a flat green table became translated into the greater insanity of wanting to do the same thing with a solitary, smaller white dimpled ball on the larger undulating grass terrain of the golf course; I spent many enjoyable hours practicing pool or occasionally hustling some half drunk bar-fly sucker out of his money. On those occasions I often thought fondly of the particular interest my Godfather took not in my religious training, but rather in something more useful in the secular domain.
Being a pool shark was considerably more fun than being a good little boy regurgitating Catechism to a sadistic nun with a Ninja ruler; and although the Pope would probably not have approved, I am sure that Don Vito Corleone would have had no issue whatsoever with me becoming adept at:
The Olympic sport of Bar rooms and Organized Crime Private Social Clubs.
Anybody up for an easy hole-in-one?
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