CHICAGO — Most of us know the term “Godfather” from the famous 1972 movie based on the novel by Mario Puzo.
In it, a man of enormous stature — Vito Corleone — ran the family business, which in this case happened to be a sprawling mob syndicate.
But the movie virtually wiped out the real life goings-on in everyday Roman Catholic families:
Like so many other Italian-Americans I had one.
And now he’s gone.
Anthony Giovannetti was my godfather and uncle. At 84 years old, he left us too soon. But then again, for those of enormous stature, it’s always too soon.
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Hundreds of years ago godfathers — godmothers as well — came about to help keep the rest of us in line from a spiritual standpoint. If we were expected to attain salvation, we needed all the help we could get. Godfathers gave us that help.
But in recent times — particularly in Western cultures — the spiritual aspect took a backseat to just being there for you. Godfathers were expected to be a special mentor or — heaven forbid — if the child’s parents died, to care for you.
And Uncle Anthony (his given name was “Ettore,” but he never used it) was just always there for me.
My godfather lived most of his life in and around Chicago. He built a hugely successful management career at United Parcel Service. When he retired, he was comfortable.
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As a kid growing up in Chicago — like so many other boys — I was busy making friends and chasing girls. The uncles and aunts were there — they were always there — but it was mostly a dinner-every-other-Sunday thing.
As I grew a little older and moved away from Chicago to attend the University of Florida, the tug of relatives grew stronger. Especially that of my godfather.
As I settled in Florida with my first newspaper job, there were frequent road trips back to Chicago. Often I’d drive 24 hours straight to get there. And more often than not I’d stay with my godfather. I was always welcome at his home with Auntie Lauretta.
I’d always call up my godfather to ask if it was OK to visit, and he’d always say yes. Then he’d be off to the Italian bakery to pick up cannolis, my favorite pastry.
Remember the famous line in The Godfather movie? “Leave the gun; take the cannoli.” That’s how important cannolis are in the Italian culture.
I moved around the country in my newspaper career. But I always found my way home to visit Chicago. And I always found my way to the godfather.
At some point during those visits — usually as I was leaving to make the trip back to wherever I was hanging my hat at the time — we’d end up on his driveway. Just the two of us.
“You need anything?” he would ask. He’d reach into his pocket where he always carried more than a few dollars. I’d always politely decline. He was overly generous to me in so many other ways.
Others felt his generosity as well. Heck, there is a Giovannetti Sports Centre named after him at a Chicago Catholic high school.
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There is a famous Italian saying that often reminds me of my godfather.
“Ci no ne un poco pazzo, non puo entrare nella casa mia.”
Translated loosely it means, “Unless you’re a little bit crazy, you’re not welcome in my home.”
When I sat in a Chicago area church a few days ago, at a Mass held especially for him, I thought about that saying.
My godfather was a little bit crazy. Crazy in love with my aunt and his kids. Crazy about giving back to those who were important to him. And crazy enough to always be there for me. So raise a glass and toast all the godfathers and godmothers out there who help so many of us along the way.
Godspeed, godfather. Godspeed.