Reflections on Becoming a Godfather at Age 19

Jacob Rozenberg discusses the emotional complexities of being asked to become a godfather as a university student, exploring how our lives can unfold and adapt in exciting ways which can’t always be predicted, and why taking the time to listen to ourselves during these moments is so important.

I’m going to start with the big one. My best friend gave birth over the summer. In the month before starting what was meant to be our second year at university, Rin found herself with a little baby girl named Saoirse. 

I couldn’t really process the news immediately. I was shocked, but simultaneously  it felt almost like there was a knowing voice in my ear whispering “we’re not children anymore”. Full of questions and concerns, I mostly just wanted to let my friend know that I’ll be there for her. I was overwhelmed by just how much our lives can reconfigure in the space of a year. 

Rin and I always cringe when acknowledging the story of how we first met. In May last year, we began messaging on a Snapchat group chat set up for new students studying English. Over the summer, we quickly became close, thanks in no small part to our shared love of Stewart Lee, Albert Camus, and the French New Wave. We bonded over both having a Smiths phase, teachers for dads, and neither of us being able to properly pronounce ‘th’ in certain words (‘three’ would become ‘free’, etc.). Little did I know when we first began sending those brief introductory messages on a notoriously uninspiring social media platform, that just over a year later, Rin would ask me to be the godfather of her child.

Artwork by Saskia Kirkegaard

Now, exactly what that part means is something we’re here to explore. As someone who grew up without godparents and grandparents, any actual understanding of this role on my part is exceedingly vague. The idea of a ‘godfather’ not depicted by Marlon Brando is not one I have previously given much thought to.

I went to a Jewish school and grew up largely surrounded by fellow Jewish people, in a sort of Northwest London bubble environment pretty distinct from university life, where people come from all different parts of London (!) When I went home during the winter holidays last year one family member asked me if I had made any ‘nice Jewish friends’ whilst I had been at Bristol. ‘Why the Jewish?’ – I wondered. 

Rin, and other friends,  who are not Jewish, may represent how my adult life is opening me up to people outside this bubble – and, in turn, exposing me to a more multicultural existence in tandem to the one in which I grew up. While it may not be possible for me to be confirmed as Saoirse’s godfather in a Catholic sense, I can instead perform a symbolic role – one which, as my adult life begins to take shape, can act in support of my friend and her daughter for all that lies ahead in our lives.

How exactly this role will transpire – I’m not sure. But I think that through being patient, understanding and empathetic with my friend and her daughter and basing my actions on those made by people who have always been there for me, in turn, I can help my goddaughter to begin her journey into life – just as I enter into a new stage of my own. I may not have a single clue what to do or say at times, but just as a line from a recent viewing of the film Boyhood reminded me: in life “we’re just winging it”, no-one really knows what they’re doing, there is no secret, we’re just doing the best we can based on what’s available to us. 

Meeting Saoirse for the very first time, only a couple of days after hearing the news, I felt any doubts or anxieties I had held for my friend begin to subside. As soon as she opened the door with Saoirse in her hands, the beautiful reality of the situation instantly became clear in my mind – there was nothing to worry about. Holding Saoirse, I felt a clear sense of calm, of normality, of life paths having altered – but a new future being processed before us. 

I realised that neither could I name anyone else our age better equipped to handle these responsibilities, nor quantify my awe at her incredible strength in handling them. Just as Ethan Hawke’s character in Boyhood reminds us, sometimes life just ‘throws shit at us’, and we don’t immediately know what’s what. But give us space and we figure it out – gradually, in time, everything becomes a whole lot easier.


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