Ryan, who is single and childless, asked me in person about how he can be the best godfather to his goddaughter, who is a year old. Her parents are his best friends, and he's so happy and honored to be one of her godparents. (For some people, the godparent role includes responsibility for religious formation, but in Ryan's case that's not part of it, but he's more of a second father/trusted uncle.)
She lives about 3,000 miles away from him, so he doesn't have frequent physical contact with her. And her godmother (who Ryan knows but not very well) is closer and has been buying all sorts of clothes and presents and he doesn't have the first idea what kind of stuff to give a baby. So he's feeling at a loss about what he should be doing at this point.
I asked him what kind of relationship he eventually saw himself having with her. He said he thought they would be buddies, and he'd take her to do outdoor stuff and sports, and that as she grew he'd be the one she could trust to have her back, and help her make good decisions about school and careers and relationships, and always be in her corner.
Once you have a goal, you can work backwards. So I said all he really had to do right now was stay in the mix, so that once she was old enough to be more interactive the relationship would already be there and they could just spend the time together that made sense to both of them. I suggested making sure her parents had recent pictures of him, so they could do the whole photo book "Who's that?" game with her now, so she'd recognize his face and be used to hearing his name. Regular Skype calls. And, since he travels a lot for work, I thought maybe he could start sending her postcards when he's out on the road.
I also suggested starting some little thing that would be their thing, that wouldn't be a big deal but would be just with the two of them. I was thinking about how my uncle (who is only 20 years older than I am) asked me whenever he saw me, for as long as I can remember, "So what did they do to you in school this week?" It always made me laugh. And now that I'm back in school I'm just waiting for him to ask me again, and I know he will because he's a super smart-ass like that.
As we were talking I could see Ryan's mind start cranking. And then the next time I saw him, he showed me a picture of her on his phone that her parents had texted him--he'd sent a baby t-shirt from his alma mater, which happens to be the uber-rival of her parents' alma mater, and in the photo she was wearing his shirt and smiling.
How did adults who were important to you stay present even when they weren't physically there? How do you stay present for the kids in your life that you can't see all the time?