Unlike any other godfather I ever have seen — except in the movies — this man took that responsibility very seriously. He was an amazing father to his two daughters, and he treated his godson like the son he never had.
He is the one who launched fireworks on the day the godson was born, the one who drove for a long distance to get the magical eardrops that took away the godson's pain, the one who knew exactly the gift the godson wanted for his birthday and for Christmas, the one who was always there with words of encouragement. "You can do it," he would say. "Nothing can stop you."
Once a prominent journalist in Havana, the godfather had learned his trade the old-fashioned way, by hanging out in the newsroom with his own father, who also had been a prominent journalist in Havana. The next in line was going to be the godson, who had been recruited, probably still as a toddler, for a career as a reporter.
"If you follow your godfather's footsteps," the godson was told, "someday you, too, will be a writer for El Pais," Cuba's premier newspaper.
But everything changed with the Cuban Revolution in 1959. As the country moved toward communism and freedom of the press was lost — along with many other human and civil rights — the godfather became a strong critic of the Fidel Castro dictatorship, until he fled the country fearing for his own safety and moved to Miami in 1961. The rest of his family, including his godson, came to the United States the following year.
Once in the United States, in the 1960s, when jobs for Spanish-language journalists were nonexistent, the godfather was forced to give up his beloved career. He learned how to fix fiberglass boats, and that new trade allowed him to provide a comfortable living for his family. He gave up his beloved journalism for the right to live in freedom in the United States.
But the godson had a decision to make. If he still wanted to be a reporter, he no longer could expect his godfather to help him get a job at El Pais. And if he wanted to be a journalist in the United States, he would have to do it in English — his second language!
Yet if the godson ever doubted his career choice because of the new obstacles, that's when the godfather sprang into action! "You can do it in any language," he would say. "Nothing can stop you." And he said it with a smile that inspired confidence.
Years later, when the godson became an American journalist, the godfather couldn't have been prouder. Communism had taken journalism out of the family, but not for long. They had overcome the censorship. The godfather had begun to write articles again, as a freelance writer for various Spanish-language weeklies in Miami, and the godson worked as a reporter for The Miami Herald, the New York Daily News and The Bergen Record and eventually became a nationally syndicated columnist. Once again, there were two journalists in the family.
Every so often, someone would call the godson to complain jokingly about the godfather. "Your godfather doesn't stop bragging about you," the godson was told. "He says you are the best Hispanic journalist in the United States."
And that sort of news always brought tears to the godson's eyes. Nothing pleased him more than to make his godfather proud. The godfather, who was married to the godson's aunt, needed to know that the family passion for journalism was in good hands.
As a freelance writer in Miami, the godfather remained a passionate anti-communist and strong critic of the Castro dictatorship. For years, he argued that negotiations with the Cuban government always would be in vain, that the Castro brothers never would relinquish their absolute control of the island, and that Cuba's freedom could only be won the way it had been won in the past: fighting, with machetes if necessary.
Indeed, one of the godfather's idols was Ignacio Agramonte, a lawyer and patriot who fought for Cuba's independence from Spain in the late 19th century. Even when they ran out of ammunition, Agramonte would tell his troops to fight with their dignity, and that's the way the godfather felt Cubans should fight for their freedom nowadays.
In an article he wrote about his idol, published in El Nuevo Herald in 2001, the godfather noted that "just like the Cubans of yesterday, the Cubans of today must liberate the land that gave us birth, and we have to do it without concern for the sacrifices, the miseries, not even death."
That philosophy often was reflected in the godson's writings.
I should know. When the godfather — Benito Alonso y Artigas — died in Miami last week at the age of 83, the godson wrote this column.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.