MEET THE GODFATHER
Paul Fleckney, godfather to 3.5 children, reveals what makes a good godparent...
In my galloping youth I was a choirboy. A mightily reluctant one – I would sometimes hide in the loo at home till it was too late to go – but I was a choirboy nonetheless. I was also ‘confirmed’ into the church. I’ve never really figured out what this meant, except that I had to wear a cassock in the pews as a fetching prize. What more would any nine-year-old boy want?
But this is the extent of my religious credentials. I don’t go to church, I don’t pray, I cannot abide Aled Jones. Despite this shortfall in religiosity, I have acquired no fewer than 3.5 godchildren by my mid-30s (I hope to address that ‘.5’ in a future column). There’s SM, EM, SG and I think EW. As someone who’s been broody for about 10 years, and is several key stages away from pro-creating, I’m over the moon about having these children in my life. They’re fun, funny, gorgeous and ridiculous.
'I’ve attended zero christenings'
With all of them, it’s an entirely secular arrangement. I’ve attended zero christenings. At the one naming ceremony I’ve been to, my only duty was to behave myself at the buffet (I failed). None of the parents are overtly religious. Had they been, and had they asked me to be chief baby dipper down at the church, I – of course - would’ve said yes, so long as they were aware that I’m a Billy NoGod. I would have felt uncomfortable with some of the promises you have to make during the ceremony, and I would be tempted to slip the vicar a tenner to make them a bit less god-y.
As it stands, I’ve never had to have any such conversations. It’s been all secular, all the time. And anecdotally speaking I know a fair few other atheist godparents. It seems godparenthood has gone the same way as Christmas and marriage – you can now make them as religious or non-religious as you want. The secularisation of Britain has been well-documented, but I’m quite pleased that we’re cherrypicking a few legacy items as we go. I happen to think there’s a lot to be said for a Christian upbringing at some level (the moral guidance, the compassion, the cassocks).
So why have I been asked so many times? Well, where do we start? I’d like to think it’s something to do with my colossal personality, or my ability to inspire, entertain and inform. In reality I think it’s more that I’m generally available at short notice. This is a key trait in a godparent, as you’d be surprised how often there’s a last-minute emergency/theatre trip/weekend break.
'I reckon you're in with a shot of becoming a godparent if you’re slightly boring.'
Other key traits, if you’re scanning your mates in search of a godparent, are: a steady job, a clean driving licence, and a sensible haircut. Just look at the evidence: my hairdo has been (small-c) conservative my whole life – despite my efforts to the contrary – and I can’t move for dribbling children. In other words, I reckon you're in with a shot of becoming a godparent if you’re slightly boring. Think about it in Peep Show terms. Who would you make the godparent to your child? Jeremy? Obviously not. Superhans? That’s a sitcom in itself. No, you’d give it to Mark. You want someone who won’t rock the boat; someone who, as a bare minimum, won’t give them crack. I take that as a compliment. I pride myself on being slightly boring, and it’s starting to pay dividends.
Another tip for parents: when asking the godparent-to-be, shit them up a bit. I’ve only ever been asked in very genial circumstances, in familiar surroundings. It was an easy yes. If you really want to test their mettle, you should take the godparent-to-be on a shopping trip to Mothercare, wait for the baby meltdown, leave them with the little bastard for a while, then ask. You need to sort the wheat from the chaff.
'Check for early onset of douchebaggery.'
My final thought on godparentdom for now is that, if all parties are taking it seriously, it’s like a friend request for life. I can already hear the snorts of derision from people older than me – of course, people can drift, friendships can fade. But it's still not something you ask lightly at the outset. This means two things: firstly check, check and check again for early onset of douchebaggery. This can be things like rudeness to waiters or wearing flip-flops when it’s cold. Secondly, I'm a big believer in going beyond uncles and aunts for godparents: it's an opportunity to extend the network, surround your kid with a range of people who have a range of experiences and personalities. And the way youth unemployment is going – SATIRE ALERT! – nepotism will be their only chance of getting a job.
Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make some calls, make sure SMEMSGEW are saying their prayers…
:: Paul Fleckney edits londonisfunny.com