Pops and AA

Dear Hope Nation,

Don’t ask me why but I’ve gotten a fair number of messages asking for more fiction. My theory is folks can only take so much Keith. They need characters who are younger and more interesting than I, and who can blame them?

The piece below needs a little introduction. Clayton is 15 and lives with his father, Pops, who is in danger of being kicked out of Clayton’s grandparents’ house because of his drinking. Clayton has been invited to stay. That is all.


“So, what do you want, Clayton?” Pops asked.“Do you want to stay here with your grandparents, go to Mastricola High School and break my heart or do you want to throw your lot in with me, an old drunk?  I can’t promise you much, but I can promise to love you.”

“Pops, you’re forty-two.That’s not old.  And you don’t have to be a drunk.  Just stop drinking and you won’t get drunk,” I said, using a logic foreign to Pops.

“Clayton, it’s not that easy.I’ve got a disease called alcoholism.  Getting drunk, for me, is a form of temporary insanity.  Alcoholism is a progressive disease, which means it only gets worse.  I can’t just quit on my own.  I need help to stop.  That’s what Alcoholics Anonymous is for.  I promise I’ll get back to working my program.  Promise.  Now, do you want to live with me or your grandparents?”

“That’s hard to say, Pops,” I said.“Could we talk about it later?”

“No, we’ll decide right now,” said Pops.“If you have faith in me, then I can do anything.  If my own son wants me to quit drinking, then I’ll start going back to meetings.  I’ll go to ninety meetings in ninety days.  I’ll find a really good sponsor, the best there is, and do whatever he tells me to do.  Your faith will pull me through and maybe change our luck. If you don’t believe in me, though, just tell me flat out right now, and I’ll leave without you.”

“Pops, it’s not that I don’t believe in you.It’s just that . . .”

“Course I can’t say where I’ll end up,” said Pops.“You know what they say about alcoholics, they either end up in recovery, in jail, in an asylum or in a pine box.  You decide, Clayton.”

“Pops,” I started, only to be interrupted again.

“Clayton, God never gives us more than we can handle.You know that.  I honestly believe that my worst day sober is better than my best day drunk.  I know that I’ve got another drunk in me, but I don’t know if I’ve got another recovery in me.  When it comes to AA, I’ll just fake it ‘til I make it.  This time I really mean it.”

I’ve heard Pops talk this AA-speak forever, and none of it added up to action.Pops drank and then he repented.  Repeat.  It was empty doubletalk, but it made Pops feel he was getting somewhere.  As long as I could remember, Pops had been in Alcoholics Anonymous, although his membership seemed to have no great effect on his sobriety. 

In fact, one of Pops’ most valued possessions was a medallion symbolizing five years of sobriety.He always kept that thing in his pocket.  Of course, Pops had never stayed sober for five years or anything like it.  Three months was about his record.  He’d found it while cleaning up after an AA meeting. He carried it around, though, hoping, at first, it might inspire him to actually stop drinking.  It hadn’t, and over time Pops forgot that he’d never earned it.  Now, Pops treated it with honor, proud of the accomplishment he’d never achieved.

Pops would mouth the slogans he’d memorized in the various church basements he’d visited, mourning his last drink.Still, when it came to the next drink, Pops found relief that alcoholism was a disease, and that he just hadn’t found the cure yet.  These slogans, though, satisfied Pops’ hunger for sobriety.

From my perspective, any “program” to quit drinking should have not twelve steps but two:

1.Don’t drink, and
2.If you feel like drinking, go back to number one.

All the other stuff just complicated what should be a simple process.After all, when I’d been teased about picking my nose on the school bus, I hadn’t labored to “give it to God” or looked for a “spiritual solution.”  Nope, I just decided I wasn’t going to be a nose-picker, no matter what.  That simple.  That effective.

I listened vaguely to Pops’ lecture on quitting drinking.When he mentioned “a moment of clarity,” I too had a vision:  my life was what it was, my father was who he was, and I might as well accept things and move on.

“Let’s go, Pops,” I said during a brief break.“We’re a team.”

“We’re a family, Clayton,” said Pops, ruffling my hair like Andy Griffith might do to Opie.Still, I couldn’t picture Aunt Bea kicking Andy out for covering his face with potato salad and passing out on the side lawn.


Keith will be back tomorrow, but I hope you enjoyed your brief respite from him.

You matter. I matter. We matter.


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