OPINION: The lessons I’ve learned from my godfather Payo

by | Dec 6, 2019 | Opinion

Nathalie Leveille, Arts Editor

For Christian children, their godparents are chosen by their parents to serve as their spiritual mentors when they become part of the church at their baptism. 

The Catholic view is that the godfather and godmother promise the child they baptized to act as their sponsors in case their parents fail in their religious upbringing.

However, Sergio Morales, also known by my family as “Payo” – short for the Spanish word for godfather – wasn’t just an ordinary godparent to me. 

He was the man who went from being just my godfather to being everything for my family through the last 30 years. I want to write about some of the things he did for me so that I could remember him.

Leveille and her godfather at her high school graduation in 2016. (Nathalie Leveille)

The most important thing my godfather did for me personally was that he always made sure my family attended the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.

The Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a celebrated Catholic feast that commemorates the belief that Juan Diego, a 16th Century Indigenous man who converted to Catholicism, and later saw the Virgin Mary.

I go to that festivity every year to renew my commitment to Mother Mary because I personally believe she saved my sight from deteriorating, which is common with bilateral retinoblastoma, a genetic form of cancer I was diagnosed with. 

I coined the nickname “Payo” when I was learning how to speak Spanish when I was growing up. That was because I couldn’t pronounce the Spanish word for “godfather,” which is “padrino.” I was learning at a much slower pace, and the name was very tricky for me to learn.

That nickname stuck, and soon all of the younger children in the family that came after me started to call him that.

Payo would get to my house at 5:59 a.m. every day for the last 10 years to help my siblings get to school on time because we went to school in Woodbridge, and we had to take the York Region Transit (YRT).

“Nathalie!” he yelled. “It’s 6 o’clock, time to get up before Eric and Rachel!”

I also grew up eating a healthy breakfast thanks to Payo as well. He always said fruit was the healthiest thing I could eat, so he would make a huge bowl of fruit salad every day. 

He also introduced me to my favourite snacks, such as KitKat, Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Cream, and Kinder Surprise egg chocolates. 

Also, Payo used to get me a can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale after every medical procedure I had at the Hospital for Sick Children, and it became my favourite drink. 

We also celebrated our birthdays together since mine is on Aug. 11 and his was three days later. He always got me my favourite cake, which is cheesecake. 

I will always remember one Christmas Eve celebration when Payo taught me how to dance rock and roll – because I truly enjoyed it.

He was the type of person who would give others the moral and emotional support. Payo was always there for me through the up and downs of my four years of Journalism school and he always supported my artistic endeavours.

I wish he’d stayed long enough to see me graduate from college and become a columnist and author in this world. However, some things aren’t meant to be because my godfather, 63, died on July 25, 2019, after a seven-month-long battle against pancreatic cancer and heart problems. 

I think he’s still watching over me from above, making sure I’m ok and not grieving too much.