January 22, 2011 (87th Birthday of Jozef Godzisz, who later became Joseph Godges)

Godges Tells WNTN Radio Why He Dedicated Family Memoir to Nephews

AUTHOR JOHN PAUL GODGES spoke on WNTN AM 1550 in Newton, Massachusetts, in early January about the three living generations of his family, particularly the youngest generation, to whom he dedicated his family memoir.

“One of the underlying motivations for me to write the book is I want my nephews to grow up in a country as beautiful as we grew up in,” said Godges, the author of Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century. “I think we owe that to our children and grandchildren.”

Radio host Sybil Tonkonogy asked Godges about his forebears, parents, siblings, and nephews. Herself a mother of three and grandmother of six, Tonkonogy wanted to start the New Year by sharing with her listeners some thoughts on how a multigenerational family can stay together.

Godges said the tendency to pull apart from one another is inherent in the American experience, beginning before people even arrive in America. In his family, he explained, there were “ferocious arguments that took place over the very decision to immigrate to America in the first place.”

Despite the differences between the two sides of his family, who emigrated from Italy and Poland, “The decision to come to America sparked a similar fight between those who desperately wanted to break free from the old country and those who just as desperately wanted to keep the family intact in the old country. I started to observe this pattern, generation after generation, of this ongoing battle in American life between individual freedom on the one hand and community integrity on the other.”

“I’d like to know a little bit about your parents,” said Tonkonogy.

“My mom sounds a lot like you, Sybil. She came from a very tight-knit extended Italian immigrant family. The most important thing she learned from her own mother was that it’s not about the children loving the parents. See, my mother confided in my grandmother that she felt closer to her own brothers and sisters than she did to her parents. It was almost a confession. And my grandmother told her, ‘That’s exactly the way it should be. It’s not about the parents. It’s about the children loving one another.’”

“It’s very important,” Tonkonogy insisted. “I think that it is up to each and every parent to display that to their children. Not only to display it, but to live it.”

“Now my father, on the other hand, came from a broken home. And the decision to come to America provoked a divorce between his father and mother, and he ended up in a Polish ghetto in Hamtramck, a city that is surrounded by Detroit. He had very painful memories of his family having been rent asunder, and he vowed early in life that he would live his life completely differently. It was a personal, a religious, an ethical, and a moral dedication to build a tight-knit family that, I think, attracted him to my mother and attracted my mother to him. So both of them have always put the children first and have taught us that that is the way to go.”

“Are your parents still alive?”

“Yes, thank goodness, we just recently were able to celebrate their 61st anniversary. They are hanging in there, and they are hanging in there together. They are continuing to exemplify all of the values that they have struggled to impart to us.”

“Do you have children now, John?”

“I don’t have children. I’m single.”

“But do your sisters or brothers have children?”

“They do. I have five nephews, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to watch them grow up and to be a godfather to a couple of them, and I dedicated my book to all five of them.”

Tonkonogy asked Godges to describe what continues to bring him and his five siblings together, despite having gone so many separate ways. “It’s our love for one another,” he began. “It is also our ability to forgive one another for our past mistakes and to look beyond the bad and to see the good. To me, that would be the definition of forgiveness. So recognize those deficiencies, but look beyond them, because there’s a lot more good than bad in each one of us.”

“And now there are grandchildren,” said Tonkonogy, asking what they think about their family.

“I think their most important and lasting impression of the family in which they’ve been raised is simply one of deep and lasting gratitude,” answered Godges. “And I hope and pray that they will pay that forward, that they will pass it along, that they see in their own extended family the benefits of looking beyond their own personal selfish agendas and working through the differences with their siblings and with their cousins—and extending that approach to life beyond the biological family to their communities of friends and neighbors and to the larger society in which we live.

“You know,” Godges became reflective, “one of the underlying motivations for me to write the book is I want my nephews to grow up in a country as beautiful as we grew up in. I want them to enjoy and contribute to an America in which people look beyond their own personal agendas toward something greater than themselves and contribute to the greater common good. Without that civic spirit—that we’re all in this together and that shared sacrifice is a central crucial value—without that sense of civic spirit, there really is no America at all. And I want them to grow up in the best kind of America. I think we owe that to our children and grandchildren.”

Tonkonogy then asked Godges to identify what has kept the extended family together.

“Generation after generation,” he replied, “I think what it comes down to is the rejection of individualism run amok. We’ve always gotten into trouble when too much weight has been given to the individual versus the community. We are always struggling to strike a healthy balance between those two forces. The imbalance has never weighed too far toward the community. It always weighed too far toward the individual. However, when we’ve put that compulsion toward individual freedom at bay just a little bit in times when push comes to shove, that is when we’ve been able to heal our wounds, and that has been the key to the good life for my family in America over the decades.”

“John, I’ve got to tell you, I thank you so very much. I think this was so apropos to speak about all of this and family life to begin the New Year. Remember the book, Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century by John Paul Godges.”


The 25-minute WNTN interview can be heard in its entirety by pressing play below.