I have been asked to be a godfather for the fourth time. I wonder what makes me so appealing in the godfather stakes? Maybe my apple and blackberry crumble is especially nutritious for growing bodies? Are the hankies I carry to wipe children’s noses more absorbent than other people’s? Or perhaps my supportive shoulders are cleverly contoured just for troubled teenage heads to rest upon? I like to imagine that there is truth in all of these, particularly my superior crumble – it really is a marvel. But surely there’s much more to it.
First, do other men have as many godchildren as I do? The answer is a resounding no. Many of my friends have just one godchild, if any – a responsibility that seems to fall off the cliff of importance once their own children are born. It’s a kind of inverted “here’s one I made earlier”, but with flesh and blood, as the original godchild is shunted to the back of their minds. So maybe there’s something about the fact that I’m gay that makes me especially appealing to parents looking for, at the very least, a free babysitter.
I imagine my friends as they stagger exhausted through the door of parenthood, running the following train of thought through their minds: “Wow, just a second, Dave is solvent. He’s in a stable relationship with Jaye, who’s also great. They have two homes – a neat flat in central London, for educational museum and gallery jaunts, plus a picture-book cottage by the sea – the perfect bolt hole for part of the summer holidays. And Dave works in the fashion industry so he has good taste, ensuring that all his gifts are likely to be a) expensive, though he will have bought them with a discount card, so we won’t need to feel guilty, and b) tasteful, so it won’t be a quick dash to Baby Gap but something unique and special, perhaps even from Tiffany. Also, Dave isn’t likely to be distracted by his own children as – brilliant! – he doesn’t have any and nor is he likely to at his highly advanced age. I bet he’s barely fertile.”
Now the puzzle of this gay godfather thing is slotting into place. All of us thirtysomething gay men and women, I imagine, are a great choice of add-on for any expanding nuclear family.
When I emailed the mother of one of my godchildren about this story, asking if her little treasure would be available to be photographed, I received the following response: “Dave, you’ve really got three other godchildren? I had no idea. What on earth does this mean for the inheritance?” Which adds yet another layer to the many benefits of a gay godparent. We’re not just a resource for stylish gifts and cheap babysitting – we really come into our own once we’re dead.
Indeed, to whom should I leave my estate? To the friend and mother who wrote the above email let me add the following caveat: Jaye, my boyfriend, and the butter on my toast for the last seven years, is 11 years younger than me – so it’s all going to him first, my dear. Which doesn’t mean to say a chunk of stuff will not come to my godchild too. Just hold those horses.
In fact, none of this is a recent development at all. Seventeen years ago, Henk, a close friend from boarding school, was the first in our gang to have a baby: little Joe. We were all pretty rubbish indeed at supporting Henk, as none of us knew anything about having children (and, of course, I still don’t). Henk, a religious education teacher, asked me to be Joe’s “moral guardian” as she wasn’t a Christian, but more of a puzzled agnostic, making the term godfather seem redundant to her.
I loved the moral guardian moniker, as it captured something in my experience of growing up gay. By being seen for some of my early life as an outsider – an oddball, a scapegoat, sometimes subjected to verbal bullying – I had a vivid, lived experience of otherness, giving me a rich seam of empathy for all kids on the rocky path to adulthood. What child hasn’t felt misunderstood, ignored or worse, many times over?
The fact that I’m now a qualified counsellor has further enhanced my ability to empathise, making me not just a sought-after godparent, but a gold-plated one. Being a gay godfather isn’t one-way emotional traffic from me to them, for the benefits to me are as significant as any life skills I may impart. As someone who went through and survived a very broody patch 15 years ago, I’m resigned to not having children, making my godchildren a close second best. It was a hard decision not to have children, but also a relief, as my relationship at the time wasn’t sustainable and the fall-out from the breakdown would have been much harder if I had had children to support as well. Plus I carry the weight of my parents’ vitriolic divorce, which was so disturbing that I ended up dying my hair blond and discovering neat vodka. Which, come to think of it, sounds almost healthy under the circumstances.
Joe’s parents split up when he was a toddler, although he remains close to both of them. But Joe has always been far closer to his dad than I have been with mine. So, perhaps Joe has something to teach me. Hey, Joe, fancy being my moral guardian for a bit?
Then along came Nancy’s parents, Gina and Chip, who were looking for a tried and tested godfather. When Nancy was born, I was staggering from a painful relationship breakdown and feeling sick with the world. When I was asked to be Nancy’s godfather (a formal initiation involving three other godparents, the crying baby herself, a protracted church service and a picnic in the park), I felt vindicated that my life wasn’t total rubbish, that I still had something useful to give through the pull of new life and duties. So, thank you, Chip and Gina. My time with Nancy is filled with pleasure. She’s a star turn and, yes, I promise to leave her a chunk of stuff when I kick the bucket.
Similarly with Persia, born to our friend Leila. She is mixed race and so is Jaye, making our relationship a microcosm of her parentage. Her parents are divorced, so an extended family comprising a couple of extra men seems like a healthy addition as she grows up. Jaye and Persia have become inseparable, while my role has been mainly taken up with dancing, for which Persia has boundless enthusiasm and I have the talent, having been a dead ringer for Billy Elliot in my youth.
That leads me on to the newest addition to my flock, Amalia. I introduced Ryan (her dad), a work friend, to Natalia (her mum) two years ago. Natalia and Jaye were also colleagues. The moment they met I could almost hear the twang of plucked heartstrings.
The resulting bundle of joy, Amalia, born just a few months ago, seems like an inevitable addition to the swelling ranks of my godchildren. She has already caused a battle, though. Jaye is her co-godfather – a role I hotly contest as it was me alone who introduced her parents.
Yet it is not so much my material security or cupid-like skills that brought me this particular godchild: apparently I’m the holder of certain crucial life skills that seem to be my trump card. As Amalia’s mum wisely said: “Show me a heterosexual godmother who can compete with a disco queen’s taffeta legacy. And I shall never be able to teach my daughter the steps to Diana Ross’s Chain Reaction.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Any more for any more?