John Paul Godges's Blog

July 2, 2015

A thunderous and prolonged standing ovation from tens of thousands of fans erupted as U.S. Marine Corps Private First Class Joseph Godges was escorted to home base for a ceremony honoring him as the “Military Hero of the Game” at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, on May 17, 2015.

As the jumbotrons projected live videos and vintage photographs of Godges above left and right fields, Dodger Stadium’s Public Address Announcer Todd Leitz heralded the life and service of the 91-year-old war hero, a Polish immigrant who explained that he had enlisted in the Marines during World War II “to earn” his U.S. citizenship; whose proudest wartime moment came when he witnessed the raising of the U.S. flag over the ruins of the former Marine Corps barracks on Guam on July 29, 1944, after eight days of heavy fighting on that island; and who later went on to raise six children with his wife of more than 65 years, Ida Godges.

“I cried during the standing ovation,” said longtime Dodger fan Julie Tugend. “It was awesome!” Throughout the game, Angelenos and visitors of all kinds came up to Godges to shake his hand and to thank him for his service to his country.

After the game, a Dodger father asked if he could take photographs of his two young sons with the military hero, who was happy to oblige. “It’s important for my boys to know their history,” said the father, who said his parents had both grown up in Chavez Ravine prior to the construction of Dodger Stadium on that site. “My mother’s house was on third base,” he added.

It was a homecoming for Godges, too, who had brought his own children to baseball games at the stadium for many years after it opened in 1962. “My favorite Dodger memory is taking my kids to the games soon after Dodger Stadium first opened in Los Angeles and watching Sandy Koufax pitch his no-hitters,” Godges recalled.

A half-century later, in 2015, most of his grown children and their spouses, along with three of his grandsons, were on hand to accompany him to Dodger Stadium and to share their appreciation for him with the throngs of Dodger faithful.

To view photos of the event, please visit this page on the author's website.
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Published on July 02, 2015 15:39 • 262 views • Tags: chavez-ravine, guam, joseph-godges, l-a-dodgers, military-hero-of-the-game, sandy-koufax, u-s-marine-corps, world-war-ii

March 22, 2015

Padaro Beach Dolphins

"Uncle John! Dolphins!!"
He was gone before I could see where he went.
My nephew Mark, 14 and already faster than I could keep up with,
Disappeared, leaving me to haul our gear over the train tracks at Padaro Beach
And to retrieve the T-shirt he cast aside in his frantic race to the sea.

I could've killed him, because he could've gotten killed on my watch.
He was nowhere to be found among the bodies crowding the sand.
He was nowhere to be found among the bodies peppering the surf.
No amount of pacing the beach or scouring the horizon revealed his position.
I had lost him. Fearing the worst, I returned to a spot near the tracks where he had last seen me.

"Hi, Uncle John," he giggled and sniffled upon finding me, seawater snot dangling from his adolescent nostril.
He was very proud of himself, having swum out a couple hundred yards into oblivion.
He didn't get any closer to the dolphins, who'd swum further west toward Santa Barbara;
But he was thrilled nonetheless, because he had just been where they had just been.

Wherever Mark had traveled as a child, he needed to visit the zoo.
He soon outgrew his fascination with animals in cages
And made a personal vow to preserve their natural habitats.
Heaven forbid anyone desecrate his home with food containing palm oil:
He'd sermonize about the devastation wrought by palm oil plantations on the orangutan habitats of Borneo.
For Mark, a pristine animal sanctuary was sacred.
That was his religion.

When we went into the water a half hour later,
The kid with 20/20 vision spotted the same trio of dolphins a half mile up the coast,
Their undulating dorsal fins signaling the possibility of a triumphal return.
"Uncle John!" he nearly choked on the water. "We HAVE to swim out further!"
He knew where the trio had blazed their trail, as if it were carved into the water as eternally as a road to Rome.

I wouldn't let him out of my sight this time.
We swam beyond the waves, where the water was too deep for the multitudes.
"This," Mark solemnly declared and bowed his head, "is where they were."
We floated for several minutes, keeping vigil.
The dolphins seemed in heaven where they were, circling and snacking on anchovies.
"We have to stay," Mark battled the demons of doubt. "They're gonna return. I know it."
And then, as if summoned, the arcing bodies of the holy trio began bounding above the water,
Their freshly fortified frames firing squarely in our direction.

"Oh, my God!" Mark's voice fell to a whisper. "Now what do we do?"
Those sleek fins skipped across the surface like gazelles across the savannah,
Covering the half mile in about a minute--a minute of mounting anxiety for us flotsam in their path.
Each soaring propulsion coming closer and closer
Made our hearts pound faster and faster
As we wondered what would happen when our worlds would soon collide.

Almost in unison, the dolphins ascended in front of us just 30 feet away,
The middle one pointing its snout right at us, the other two in parallel on either side.
In what appeared to be a coordinated maneuver, the trio dove before us in one fell swoop.
We gasped and held our breath.
Everything went quiet. The water lay still.

"Where'd they go?" Mark exhaled.
We turned around and saw the fins rising 30 feet behind us, still leaping and bounding for glory.
And then the revelation hit us:
In that moment of silence, the dolphins had encircled us on three sides;
In that moment of silence, the dolphins had accepted us, accommodated for us, and watched out for us;
In that moment of silence, the dolphins had held us in the watery embrace of their warmth and protection.

"Oh! My! God!" Mark flailed his arms and flapped his legs in rapturous delight against the forgiving surface,
Having witnessed firsthand the fullness of the power that lies directly beneath.
When everything had gone quiet, when everything had gone still, when every breath had ceased,
We experienced everything of lasting importance all at once:
Humility, awe, reverence, surrender, communion, uplift, gratitude, joy,
And even, from the instinctively protective dolphins, a measure of deep-seated love.
My once-lost nephew had evoked, for both of us souls adrift, a moment of perfect alignment with paradise.
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Published on March 22, 2015 09:18 • 269 views • Tags: dolphins

February 14, 2015

Golden Sea Lion

Of all unlikely places to encounter the nobility of the sea,
It happened in the dank midday darkness beneath the Santa Monica Pier,
That longtime repository of fecal matter, human and pigeon.

It was there you struck your pose, atop the pedestal of a perfectly flat berm,
Three feet above the tumult of waves assaulting the pylons.
Your golden pelt captured a strand of light penetrating the planks above.
Your stalwart torso glowed amid the shadows.
You were at ease.

Propped on your prodigious front flippers, you lifted your chest toward the sea,
Surveying your domain from this temporary palisade.
We acknowledged each other from about twelve feet away.
I bowed with open hands at my sides.
You twitched your whiskers.
We held each other's gaze.

It was the calmness of your attention that left the deepest impression.
"I might be new to you," your unflinching brown eyes conveyed,
"But you're nothing new to me."
Every cell in your body must recall
The hunt of the ancient Channel Island dwellers
Who followed the flesh of your forebears
Around the Pacific Rim, hewing to your realm for their sustenance.

Out of respect, I decided to disrupt you no further, to leave you at peace,
And to carry in my memory the image of you in stately equipoise,
Arching your neck above the fray,
Regal as the lion of the land.

John Paul Godges
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Published on February 14, 2015 11:01 • 267 views • Tags: santa-monica, sea-lion

February 16, 2014

German novelist and blogger Christoph Fischer prompted author John Paul Godges to share his inspirations as a writer, his favorite qualities in the characters in his family memoir, and his suggestions about the types of actors who could portray some of those characters on the wide screen.

“Steinbeck is my role model,” Godges identified one of his inspirations. “In just about everything he wrote, he revealed his love for people, animals, and the land. My favorite books of his are Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. I genuinely miss his characters: the Joads, the Hamiltons, and the Trasks. They had their faults, but Steinbeck showed us how to love them through his words. I cannot imagine a nobler task for a writer.”

As for the characters in his memoir, said Godges, “Forgiveness is the characteristic I like most. Without the ability to forgive one another and to look beyond our personal agendas, there can be no family, and there can be no society. The characters stick to their guns, but they learn to respect each other’s competing guns and to forgive one another for the wounds they inevitably inflict.”

Who would play some of those characters on film? “Valerie Harper would play my mom, the emotionally effusive Italian,” Godges suggested. “Christopher Plummer would play my dad, the morally rigorous Marine. Sally Field would play my mentally ill sister, whose character is a cross between ‘The Flying Nun’ and ‘Sybil.’”

Godges described his mentally ill sister Geri as his “favorite character of all. She is the heart and soul of the family, because she taught us how to love one another.”

Click here to read the full interview.
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August 17, 2013

“A gay identity can inspire and deepen a Christian faith,” author John Paul Godges told the Ignatian News Network in its new video series on gay Catholics. The quote took on a life of its own, making the headline of a news item about the series in The Raw Story, a progressive news site that reaches five million viewers per month.

“My Christian faith has been a source of strength in my spiritual journey throughout my life as a gay man,” Godges told the Ignatian News Network. “My experience as a gay man has been a source of strength in my Christian journey.”

Ignatian News Network is affiliated with Loyola Productions, a Jesuit-sponsored film production company based in Los Angeles. The network’s series on gay Catholics is called “Who Are We to Judge?”—a reference to a comment made last month by Pope Francis, the Catholic Church’s first-ever Jesuit pope.

“I often tell people that being Catholic is a lot like being American,” Godges said in the video. “And just because some politician prosecutes a misbegotten war, I’m not going to renounce my citizenship and flee to Canada. I’m going to stay and fight and communicate and converse and speak at retreats and do whatever I can to promote the best that’s in the Catholic Church. I’m going to hang onto that. I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me.”

The author of Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century, Godges referred to himself in the video as “a Vatican II baby,” while a photo of him at the age of five filled the screen. “I was raised by some very inspiring nuns. We were reared with the core teaching that we are all created in the image of God.”


Click here to view Episode 2 of “Who Are We to Judge?”

Click here to read the article in The Raw Story.
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Published on August 17, 2013 17:03 • 354 views • Tags: catholic, gay, ignatian-news-network, jesuit, the-raw-story

August 11, 2013

As keynote speaker for the 2013 retreat hosted by the Gay & Lesbian Outreach group at St. Monica Church in Santa Monica, California, author John Paul Godges recounted key moments in his family’s life, as described in his book Oh, Beautiful, and encouraged retreat participants to explore their own narratives of faith and family.

“I’m going to share four passages from this book about my family’s origins and about how four of us in the family found a way to remain true to our Catholic spiritual roots despite difficult times in our lives,” Godges began his speech. “Each of the passages portrays a struggle either to reconcile our Catholic faith with our identities and experiences or to locate the saving grace of redemption where one might least expect to find it.”

The book passages encapsulated different kinds of experiences—a traumatic event, a direct confrontation, a provocative conversation, and a communal reflection—designed to inspire introspection among the retreat participants about their own moments of spiritual crisis, doubt, or awakening within their own families. Each passage concluded with a pointed question for each participant to address in his or her retreat journal.

The presentation “helped us identify our spiritual roots and reflect on how the people in our lives have shaped us,” Arthur Fitzmaurice, a retreat participant, wrote in the St. Monica Church parish bulletin following the retreat.

The participants came from a diversity of backgrounds, ages, and life experiences, including a lesbian couple who are students at nearby Loyola Marymount University, a man whose family has lived in the same Louisiana parish for 150 years, and a man whose mother is the eldest of 22 children and who has 100 cousins. Hailing from a variety of cultures—Mexican, Puerto Rican, Acadian, African-American, Filipino, Irish, Polish, Italian, and others—the participants incorporated cultural mementos into their retreat discussions about family origins and directions.

“Our lives all have different stories,” added Fitzmaurice, “but certain excerpts from John Paul Godges’ book brought home the universality of our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with God.”
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Published on August 11, 2013 16:07 • 228 views • Tags: family-origins, gay-and-lesbian-catholics, gay-and-lesbian-outreach, santa-monica, st-monica-church

June 9, 2012

At the first annual IndieReader Discovery Awards, announced this week at the BookExpo America trade show in New York City, the award in the category of American Studies went to Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century by John Paul Godges.

Judges for the awards included publishers, agents, publicists, reviewers, authors, bloggers, and producers. Nina Sankovitch, author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, a memoir of reading a book a day for one year, offered high praise for Oh, Beautiful.

“Godges’ heartfelt and probing exploration of his own family history provides for all readers not only a fascinating story of immigration but also an inspirational anthem to the human spirit,” said Sankovitch, who is also a book reviewer for The Huffington Post and readallday.org.

“Godges shows us his family from their first individual arrivals in America, creating a portrait of how roots are planted in a new country, and then moves on through generations to show how, through feats of endurance and flexibility, his family has held together, connecting to each other and to their shared history, to survive and surpass the inevitable cycles of happiness and sorrow.”

The IndieReader is known as “the essential consumer guide to self-published books and the people who write them.” Its founder, Amy Edelman, came up with the idea of IndieReader for two reasons. “The first was to create a more level playing field for authors who choose to go it on their own. The second was to give book lovers the opportunity to discover great works that they might not have otherwise found,” she explained.

“I’m very grateful to IndieReader,” said Godges. “I’ve been impressed with the exceptional care and thoughtfulness of everyone involved in this awards program. It’s truly an honor to win this award from them.”

Click here for a full list of the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards.
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May 19, 2012

Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century placed as first runner-up in the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award category of Culture, the awards committee announced this week. The Culture category encompasses nonfiction titles “demonstrating the human or world experience” across several cultural dimensions.

The Eric Hoffer Book Award honors the memory of the American philosopher Eric Hoffer, who wrote ten books about working-class social issues. The award highlights “salient writing” as well as the “independent spirit” of small publishers.

“It’s fitting to receive this award for Oh, Beautiful in memory of a man who was a migrant worker, longshoreman, and free thinker,” said author John Paul Godges. “I think a lot of the characters in this book could relate to Eric Hoffer.”

The Eric Hoffer Award for short prose and books was established at the start of the 21st century “as a means of opening a door to writing of significant merit.”

The full list of Eric Hoffer Book Award recipients can be found here.
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Published on May 19, 2012 12:05 • 292 views • Tags: award, culture, eric-hoffer, eric-hoffer-book-award, godges, longshoreman, migrant-worker, oh-beautiful, philosopher

April 24, 2012

Two-thirds of the way through Fahrenheit 451, I can't help but see parallels between Ray Bradbury's dark vision of the future and the dangers of social media in the present—not all social media, of course, just the way many of us, myself included, often use it.

As you probably know, Bradbury's classic novel presents a dystopian world in which firefighters burn books for a living and even the people who harbor them, all with the enthusiastic consent of the vast majority of the populace, who feel threatened by books.

Written in 1953, the paragraph below (from page 55) took my breath away. Is this prescient, or what?:

"Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digests-digests, digests-digests-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man's mind about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!"

There are plenty of aspects of Bradbury's futuristic nightmare that have not come to pass, that seem implausible, and that might even be counteracted by the freewheeling independence of social media mavens challenging the status quo. Amen to that!

However, the eeriest aspect of Fahrenheit 451 is that the oppression is one chosen by the masses, who seek their happiness in endless, mindless distraction. The antagonist explains (on page 58):

"It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals."

That creeps the heck outta me. Partly because I'm a firm believer in minority pressure. Mostly because of the larger social forces arrayed against thoughtful attention to what makes life meaningful.

It gets worse. On page 87, Bradbury, writing decades before the Arpanet, pens one of the best descriptions ever of the frenetic churn of viral marketing:

"Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than 'Mr. Gimmick' and the parlor 'families'? If you can, you'll win your way, Montag. In any event, you're a fool. People are having fun."

I don't mean to cast aspersions on technology, social media, the blogosphere, and new communications tools. Like all tools, they can be used for good and often are. But they can also be used for bad.

That's why I like Goodreads. This is a social media site for people who actually read books, reflect upon them, incorporate their wisdom into their lives, and share that wisdom with others. Whenever I find myself in a roiling debate over the merits and demerits of social media, I point to Goodreads as an example of how to do it right. I'm humbled by the quantity and quality of books that Goodreaders read.

But Bradbury offers a harrowing reminder of how we can destroy ourselves with the incessant pings of disaggregated, dis-integrated, discombobulated gunk that passes itself off as "information" these days and that is the antithesis of any good book.

I don't have the answers. Just questions. I don't know if it's fair to compare the Bradbury nightmare to social media. Do you?

At the very least, he offers us a worthy warning.
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Published on April 24, 2012 19:03 • 2,208 views • Tags: bradbury, fahrenheit-451, goodreads, montag, ray-bradbury, social-media

March 24, 2012

Selling at a steady clip, Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century rose to #3 on the Amazon bestseller list this past week for paperbacks in the category of U.S. genealogy. At nearly the same time, the family memoir hit #5 on the Amazon Kindle bestseller list for genealogy.

“It’s been gratifying to see the book grow in popularity among genealogists and family historians,” said the author, John Paul Godges. “The genealogy blogs have started lighting up and spreading the word about the book as a good example of how to bring a family story to life.”

As shown here, Oh, Beautiful stood in good company at #3 on the U.S. genealogy paperback bestseller list, landing one spot above Slaves in the Family, which had won the 1998 National Book Award for nonfiction.

Oh, Beautiful also ranked #14 on the Amazon paperback bestseller list for memoirs related to childhood and the family. The book shared good company in this category as well, falling just four spots below the 2005 Jeannette Walls memoir, The Glass Castle.

UPDATE: As of 10:30 p.m. today Pacific time, Oh, Beautiful climbed to #2 in U.S. genealogy, trailing only Lisa See’s On Gold Mountain: The 100-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family.
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Published on March 24, 2012 17:10 • 251 views • Tags: bestseller, family-history, genealogy, memoir