The Skateboard Pup had an appointment at the Genius Bar in the Apple store to do something to one of his many tiny music devices, and since there was a cafe near the store in the mall he asked if we could meet there instead of our usual routine. He caught me both flexible on time and generous in spirit, so although it meant by meeting in public we would not get to read the Big Book together, I agreed. (I am neither proud nor ashamed to be in AA; it is by this point simply a fact of my life, like the color of my eyes or the graying of my hair -- but that doesn't mean I'm interested in sitting at a table in a mall cafe and reading aloud from the Big Book with a sponsee. That's just... not my thing.)
SKATEBOARD PUP: Thanks for being flexible, Mr. SponsorPants.
MR. SPONSORPANTS: No problem. Just remember this next time you or Girlfriend are moaning about what an old stick I am.
SKATEPUP: Fair enough. She doesn't think you're an old stick you know.
I shrugged and sipped my coffee. Talking about what Girlfriend did -- or didn't -- think was not a great use of our time together, and I didn't want to go down that road regardless.
MR. SP: How are meetings going?
SKATEPUP: Good. Good.
He rattled off his schedule of meetings, we talked about a few things he'd heard in shares or during fellowship that he either liked or was troubled by. Although Girlfriend had originally set my Sponsor Sense tingling there seemed to be an easy enough balance in place and Skatepup's involvement in AA was what I would (gratefully) categorize as "still in the middle of the lifeboat."
MR. SP: I was thinking the other day...
SKATEPUP: Uh oh.
MR. SP: Funny. Anyway, I was thinking that it is time for you to start raising your hand or standing up in meetings when they ask for people who are willing and able to sponsor.
SKATEPUP: What? No! I can't... I'm not...
I waited while he spluttered, keenly aware that my face most likely had the expression that another sponsee -- one whom I've sponsored for close to eight years since he very first showed up in AA -- has recently taken to calling The Look. I find it hard to credit that I have become that kind of Sponsor, and chalk his observation up to playful ribbing. Regardless, I looked at the Skateboard Pup until his monosyllabic protests sputtered to a close.
MR. SP: You can't keep it if you don't give it away, and it's time for you to start giving.
SKATEPUP: I... really? I don't feel like I'm ready.
MR. SP: You're ready.
SKATEPUP: I'm not sure I have the time, actually... work is...
MR. SP: You have the time. If I have the time you have the time.
SKATEPUP: What if I screw it up?
MR. SP: You won't screw it up.
SKATEPUP: What if I do?
MR. SP: You can't screw it up.
SKATEPUP: Sure I can! What if... what if I give them bad advice or suggestions or something and they drink.
MR. SP: Oh, I'm not worried about that.
SKATEPUP: You mean you think I'll give them good suggestions?
MR. SP: I have no idea.
SKATEPUP: Gee, thanks.
MR. SP: I am not in the least concerned with whether or not your sponsees stay sober.
SKATEPUP: You're NOT?!?
Eyes big. Face incredulous. Oh to have been able to snap a pic at that moment.
MR. SP: No. I'm concerned with whether YOU stay sober. YOU are my priority.
SKATEPUP: But then, if you're not concerned with my sponsees staying sober, who...
Penny in the air.
The penny drops.
SKATEPUP: Oh! But...
MR. SP: Relax, you didn't give them alcoholism, you can't take it away. You help, you suggest, maybe you inspire. You don't cure. You are responsible for sharing the tools and helping with the Steps. What they do with it all is between them and their HP. And anyway, honestly, though I'm very fond of you now Skatepup, and I really hope you stay sober, I don't sponsor you so that you stay sober.
SKATEPUP: You don't... oh. You sponsor me so that YOU stay sober.
I smiled, shrugged and took another swig of coffee.
MR. SP: See? You're very sharp. You'll do fine. But I really do hope you stay sober too.
SKATEPUP: Gee, thanks. Hey... what if...
Trust an alcoholic to always have one more dodge left up our sleeves, so often wrapped in a "what if..." I raised my eyebrows in query.
MR. SP: What if...
SKATEPUP: Well, girlfriend was quoting someone the other day, I forget who, but it was something like "There are many paths to the top of the same mountain."
MR. SP: I think that quote has been around for centuries, not sure who it's attributed to -- there are a couple of versions making a couple of observations about the Path -- or Paths -- too. What does that have to do with you sponsoring people?
SKATEPUP: Well, if there are many paths to the top of the same mountain, maybe some paths don't have being a sponsor as part of them.
Oh brother. Often when sponsoring people I ask God to help me with the words -- and I am certain that my best material is sourced by the Divine far more than from me -- but this one I felt capable of handling on my own.
MR. SP: Well, there may be many paths to the top of the same moutain, but that doesn't mean you're on one.
Skatepup made a face like he tasted something he didn't like.
MR. SP: In fact, from my experience, the path of an addict who doesn't then take their turn -- or at least be willing to take their turn -- as a sponsor is one that is probably not leading anywhere but over the edge of a cliff.
SKATEPUP: Okay. Okay. That's not very poetic you know, but okay.
He held up his hands in surrender.
MR. SP: Skatepup, some of the best relationships -- and some of the richest learning and deepest growth I've had -- has been through being a sponsor. I promise it will be more rewarding than you can imagine.
It will quite probably be more frustrating than you can imagine too, I thought, but let's not go there right now. Let's leave that observation filed under "more will be revealed."
We chatted a bit more, I secured his full commitment to raising his hand or standing up when during announcements in a meeting he was attending they asked who was available to sponsor. The time came for his Genius Bar appointment and we shook hands, hugged and went our merry ways.
As I walked away I smiled to myself, because there was one thing I was sure of that, no matter how I tried to explain it, the Skateboard Pup would never believe:
That kid was going to make a helluva great sponsor to someone.
There are more essays like this in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download the Kindle reader app for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone.