Put your faith in your godmother

Put your faith in your godmother


AS The godmother of a late-teen daughter of good friends, I’m supposed to have been responsible for the religious upbringing of their child. All I can say is, good luck; asking me to teach someone about religion is like asking me to teach a pig to whistle – it’s a waste of my time and it will annoy the pig.

It’s much better that a godmother teaches a godchild about practical issues, and about things that will actually be of significant use to her throughout her life. I’m keen that she grow up to be independent, self-confident and happy; discussions about imaginary friends might be of only some help in this regard.

One thing I am learning, though, is that a godmother is often a useful first port of call when a mother or a father is better avoided. That’s when the role can be particularly useful.

I should add that this is not a goddaughter-godmother relationship where I withhold things from the child’s parents. That would be improper and disrespectful, and it would undermine the family relationship. If there’s things they need to know, I tell them. My goddaughter knows this and is OK with it. Even so, there are moments when a call to a godmother at 3am is clearly the preferable option to waking the mother.

This happened one night (or morning) during September, and it reinforced my belief that the practicalities of life are sometimes far more important than any faith-based instruction.

The call roused me from sleep only slowly but when I saw the name on the screen I snapped wide awake. A call from her at this hour meant something serious. But it turned out to be only a flat tyre, in the middle of nowhere, on the way home from a party (she was completely sober). Change the wheel, I helpfully offered, drive home, and we’ll sort out everything else in the morning. That’s when she told me she didn’t know how to change a wheel. No-one had shown her how.

‘There’s really no excuse at any age or stage of experience to be unable to handle the mechanical aspects of driving – changing a wheel, keeping an eye on the warning lights, topping up the washer fluid. You know, really basic stuff.'

There’s a lot said about the preparedness of our kids to drive at the moment when we hand them the keys to the car and send them out on the roads on their own for the first time. And it’s true their skills are rudimentary, and their ability to read traffic, assess situations and moderate risky behaviour is woefully under-developed. Those things only come with regular practice, experience, training and the patience of good instructors.

But as I drove to the location she’d sent to me from her phone, I reflected on the thought that there’s really no excuse at any age or stage of experience to be unable to handle the mechanical aspects of driving – changing a wheel, keeping an eye on the warning lights on the dash (and telling someone when they come on), checking the oil level occasionally, topping up the washer fluid (and using a suitable additive). You know, really basic stuff.

I arrived, and it took about 20 minutes by torchlight (me holding the torch and issuing instructions; she doing the physical stuff so she’d know how to do it next time) to change the wheel. She also knows to get the flat replaced and have a matching, second new tyre fitted to the front, with the two least worn of the remaining tyres fitted to the rear and the third-least worn tyre stowed in the boot as the spare for next time.

(Oh, and never skimp on tyres. Too often they’re the only thing between you and disaster and it’s worth many extra dollars to know they will do their job properly when needed. Go with a great brand and avoid cheap stuff, even – especially – on your kids’ cars. Here endeth the lesson; amen.)

Now it all makes sense to her – she’s not silly; she just hadn’t been shown before. This is a conversation I’ll have with her father at another time. As we departed she told me she didn’t know what she’d do if I wasn’t her godmother, and as I drove away I wondered what purpose faith-based religious instruction might have served in this particular situation.

But then I thought of the joke about the man who hears on the radio that there’s going to be a flood, but thinks to himself, “I’ll be OK; my faith will protect me.” The rain starts, and the floodwaters rise, and he soon finds himself sitting on his roof. A boat goes by and the driver asks him if he’d like a lift. “No thanks, I’ll be fine; my faith will protect me,” the man replies.

The water rises until it is close to the roofline, and a helicopter appears overhead. “Can we winch you out?” the operator calls. “No thanks, I’ll be fine; my faith will protect me,” the man replies.

When the water sweeps him off the roof and he drowns, he finds himself before St Peter. “What on earth are you doing here?” St Peter asks. “I don’t know,” the man says. “I thought my faith would protect me.”

“Well, I’m not sure what else you needed,” St Peter says. “We sent you a radio bulletin, a boat and a helicopter.”