“Italians have a little joke, that the world is so hard a man must have two fathers to look after him, and that’s why they have godfathers.”
– Mario Puzo, The Godfather
This quote comes from the novel.
The concept of godparents arose in the early fifth century. Initially, natural birth parents filled in this role of sponsor during the baptism of a child. However, St. Augustine allowed exceptions to be made and by 813, it was decreed that biological parents could not be a child’s godparent. Godparents were to give the child spiritual guidance, beyond baptismal sponsoring. Obviously, Italians take this relationship seriously in different ways.
Because Vito is Johnny Fontane’s godfather, it is very difficult for Vito to refuse to help Johnny, even if Vito disapproves of Johnny’s behavior. The world is too tough for Johnny and that’s why he needs Vito. But Johnny clearly exploits this relationship.
In a literal sense of the quote, I think the Italians are being babies. I have godparents and they barely play a role in my life. My godparents are my mom’s sister (my aunt) and her brother-in-law (my uncle.) The only meaning that this relationship has in my life is that they will act as my parents if anything happens to my mom and dad. Maybe this is because I do not practice Catholicism as hardcore as I should be to have my godparents be more meaningful in my life apart from the fact that they are my relatives. (I do attend mass every Sunday and pray daily, but there’s more that I could do.)
Anyway, I think those in the mafia make their lives difficult because they are basically relying on the flaws of law enforcement to keep them from living behind bars, so a second father might be useful for extra guidance, protection, and resources.