You choose your friends, not your family.
But there are times, rare and unique times when we do get to choose our family. The most significant example of this of course, is when we choose to marry someone thereby creating our own family. Another example can be found through the adoption of a child. But there is a more subtle example that’s been profoundly significant to my life, and that is the addition of Godparents.
To say that I love my Godparents would be an understatement. I don’t even know if there are words to express the love I feel for them or the impact they have had on my life. They have taught me by their own example about the meaning of family, love, relationships, philanthropy, values and unpretentiousness. And despite anything my parents might have done wrong in my childhood, they can both be proud of their choice. The choice to make those two people an indelible part of my family.
Here they are:
But I always remember them more like this:
They were our neighbors and they were my parent’s best friends. And although today we only see each other about once a year, when we get together it feels like we’ve never been apart. I love them. I love them to the moon and back. And whether they know it or not, they have had a strong hand in defining my life.
As you can imagine, those are pretty big ‘Godparent’ shoes to fill.
And to be honest, I started thinking about choosing Godparents shortly after I conceived my son. It was a very significant decision for me. Who would we choose to become our son’s family?
For me, the biblical aspect of the job wasn’t what I would base my selection on. What I wanted for my son were mentors. People he could confide in when he couldn’t confide in my husband or me. People he could turn to, count on, and be loved by. People who would have a hand in guiding him, not just in his journey of faith but in his journey of life. People who had lived and who were strong. Strong enough to tell him when they thought he was making mistakes and strong enough to tell me and my husband when they thought we were making mistakes. People who would have a deep interest in him and his success as a human being.
Friends who would be willing to become family.
I talked to my husband. We didn’t have a ‘couple’ in mind who we wanted to ask. No best friends living next door that Nolan could toddle back and forth between. So I suggested this: that we each pick a good friend. We would choose people who were independent and strong individuals. People who were younger than us. People who we loved and who loved us back. People who we would be honored to have cemented in Nolan’s life.
I knew immediately who I wanted to be Nolan’s Godmother. My friend Debbie, who had never given up on me in the first few weeks after I’d given birth. Debbie, who called me over and over even though I never called her back. Who came over and watched tv with me because I couldn’t leave the house. Debbie, who was nearly just as excited as I was when she found out I was pregnant. My choice was easy.
But my husband struggled with his choice. You see, he is one of the connected ones and he has so many friends. So many people who love him. We had a number of conversations about it and in the end he decided to ask his friend John (or JP as we call him).
At eight years his junior, my husband coached JP in football. They had been close friends ever since. JP would always swing by to say hi. He always wanted to show Steve his new toys. A man both big in stature and personality, JP would always look over at me and wink when Steve would get lost on a tangent.
And then there was the day we brought Nolan home from the hospital. After hosting family almost all day, I was dead on my feet when the phone rang. It was JP asking if he and his brother could come over to meet Nolan and bring him a small gift. I couldn’t say no, and I remember being struck for days by how important it was to this young man to come over as soon as he could, to meet my husband’s son. He was eager to hold Nolan and greeted our two day old infant (both then and each time after) with a cheery “What’s up!”
When I think of Nolan’s Godparents, who are uniquely not a couple, I will always remember this day. The day my husband and I were given the gift of choosing our family.
It breaks my heart to write that this week JP was diagnosed with cancer. And the battle’s been lost before it even began. He’s dying. Most likely within the next few days. And although the trajectory of his life in the last couple of years took him away from our family, I always knew in my heart that someday he would come back to us and take the place that would always be saved for him in our hearts. That he would be everything I knew he wanted to be for our son. Unfortunately as it turns out, I was wrong. One of the biggest gifts my husband and I have ever given two people, that relationship between a Godfather and Godson that we had so many hopes and dreams for, is being stolen from them by the hands of fate.
To say we are devastated would be an understatement.
I’ll be around and eventually I’ll be back. But right now every time I sit down to write, this is the only post I produce. And in honor of our friend and family, please, remember to embrace your todays. Because you never really know how many tomorrows you’ll have.
Edited to add: In loving memory of John Paul Renaud who passed away on March 27, 2010 at 31 years of age. A cherished friend and Godfather, JP will forever live in our hearts. And JP? I hope you don’t think that dying is getting you out of your Godfather duties. Because our guardian angel demands have just gone up exponentially!
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