Bob taught me that when someone reaches out for help, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing or how you’re feeling… You just go!
I’m going to miss you.
My sponsor Bob Kaplan passed away last week, on January 1st. He was my sponsor of 22 years, and I loved him terribly.
Today would have been Bob’s 37th sober birthday. He lived 77 years, the same as my father. Bob was like a father to me, I was certainly closer to him than to my old man.
It took me three years of daily 12-step meetings to get 30 sober days in a row. I got 29 days three different times, but I just couldn’t get over the hump, and my eskimo Steve D. had all but had it with me. He and my sponsor at the time literally kicked me out of their 12-step group… And this was no ordinary group, there were legends there like Jack F. and Bob H., true old-time heroes to many in the 12-step community.
I know what you’re thinking, how can you be kicked out of a 12-step group?
But it was the most loving thing they could’ve done. They told me I needed to go to the Pacific Group because that’s where the sickest go to get help, but first I should go to AA Central Office and speak to the manager, a man named Harvey P. Harvey reminded me of an army general with a deep raspy voice. He was going to be my new sponsor.
God bless Harvey’s soul, he took one look at me and marched me into a back office.
“You’re not for me,” he said. “You’re for Bob.”
A man who looked old enough to be my father was sitting behind a desk, leaning back in his chair with his feet up and talking on the phone. He held up his finger as if to say, I’ll just be another moment, take a seat.
Then, out of nowhere, he started screaming at the person on the phone, and then hung up on him.
Now you have to understand what the last three years had been like for me. I had a sponsor who told me I had to change everything about myself if I wanted to stay sober. And now here was this guy sitting across from me undressing someone the exact same way I would have if I was angry. I was in shock.
After he hung up the phone, his face all red and a garden hose pumping generously through his forehead, he looked up at me. I spoke quickly before he could say anything.
“Will you be my sponsor?”
As excited as I’ve ever seen anyone, he stood up and screamed at the top of his lungs, “Oh yeah!”
I don’t remember anything else from that day, but I left there with a sense of hope. I could still be me and be sober. I didn’t have to be some goody-good.
A week later I got really sick and I called Bob in the morning to tell him I was going to the doctor.
He was afraid I was going to “med seek,” so he told me to skip the doctor and go to the pet store instead and to call him when I got there.
This is like 22 years ago so I hope I’m remembering this right, but when I called him, he told me to get something called amoxicillin. I grabbed a salesperson to help me and called Bob back when I had the medication.
He told me to take two pills every four hours until they were gone.
“You know, Bob, this is fish penicillin. For fish?” I said.
“Yeah, I know what it is,” he said.
“Bob, it’s got a skull and crossbones on the packaging and says ‘not for human consumption.’ I’m no genius, but doesn’t skull and crossbones mean poison?”
“Son, I’ve got 12 and a half years sober,” Bob said. “Take it, don’t take it, I don’t give a shit. But if you want to stay sober, do what I told you to do.”
Truth be told, I don’t know if I wanted to be sober for good back then, but I loved this guy already. He was nuts, but in the best possible way. I took the fish penicillin, and I got better right away, just like he said I would.
One day shortly after that, I was so newly sober and so crazy, I drove around and around in a parking garage for 15 minutes, looking for the exit. I was lost and I just started crying. So I called Bob. He got me out of that garage in 60 seconds.
We would speak every morning and meet up at meetings and then grab something to eat. Sometimes it was just the two of us, but most of the time my 12-step brothers and sisters joined us. Bob sponsored a ton of people, and his sponsees, old friends, and his magnificent wife Signe became our extended family.
He taught me everything, everything that’s important.
He taught me that when someone reaches out for help, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing or how you’re feeling… You just go!
I got that from him!
He would say, “there’s nothing to get, only to give.”
I got that from him!
One day I called Bob while he was at work and asked him to come see a house I wanted to buy. He left work to meet me and check out the house.
Walking through the house, he says: “You got a lotta fireplaces in this place, kid, how many you got?”
“This house is huge, how many square feet you got here?”
I answered all his questions, giving him the details of this great house I’d found, speaking with pride and joy, the pride and joy you feel when somebody really gets you. Then he dropped the hammer.
“Single guy, nine months sober. Do I have this right?” He asked. I nodded.
“Get in the car, asshole, I’ll show you where you’re living. I can see you can’t be left unattended.”
I got in his car and left my car behind. I did what I was told, his will was stronger than mine. It always was.
We drove back to his condo in West Hollywood and he got on the phone with his real estate agent. I can still hear him saying, “Vita, come to my house and show my kid everything in the building… He needs a new place to live and can’t be left unattended.”
I picked a unit on the same floor as his.
Every night before bed, he came over in his pajamas, slippers, and bathrobe and hung out for an hour or so screaming at the game on television if we had sports on, and eating those super spicy vegetables in a jar that he loved.
The four years I lived in Bob’s building I don’t think a day went by where we didn’t see each other. I loved him, and I miss him very much.
In 2003 I had this crazy idea that I wanted to move to Malibu. The traffic and noise from the city were just too much for me.
When I told Bob I was going to buy a house in Malibu, he told me to rent for three months before I bought anything to see if I liked it.
“Bob, how is anybody going to not like living on the beach?” I remember saying to him.
“You’re an animal, rent for three months and if you like it you can get it.”
Again, he was right! I hated living on the beach. The wind and the noise, and whether your windows are open or closed, you always wake up in the morning with sand in your bed. (I still can’t figure out how that happens?)
Instead, I bought a house about a half mile from the ocean with the most gorgeous white-water views. It was everything I loved about Malibu without the hassle of being on the beach.
Bob was also right about being in a big house as a single guy. I was used to being in a small space and this new place was giant in comparison. I wasn’t comfortable there. It was too much for me, so I turned it into what would become a world-renowned treatment center and bought a two-bedroom cottage down the street that felt much better to me.
I was not a clinician, I didn’t have any healthcare experience, and I didn’t have an MBA. I had never even been to rehab.
But what I did have was very good training. Bob lived a life of service and he taught me how to do that — in a joyful way!
There are very few people who have actually been on a true 12-step call with their sponsor, where they visit someone they’ve never met before in hopes of helping them get sober. I was so lucky to have gotten to do this with Bob.
Bob and I were sitting at Central Office together when a call came in. He picked up the phone.
Now, the people who answer the phone at Central Office are supposed to find out where the caller is, then look in the directory and give them directions to the closest meeting.
That’s not what Bob did.
He looked at me and said, “Let’s go, Rich!” We got in his car and drove to the caller’s house.
After we parked, Bob turned off the car and grabbed my arm.
“I want you to find a chair and go to the corner of the room,” he said, serious as he’s ever been. “You’re not to draw any attention to yourself and you’re not to say a word. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I need him focusing on me and what I’m telling him. Not a word, okay?”
I don’t remember exactly what he said but I was 110% present at the time and I hung on every word.
What I noticed was his command over the room.
I noticed the empathy.
I noticed the honesty.
I learned these things from Bob. Everything that truly matters, I learned from Bob.
Today, Bob’s doing just fine. Right now he’s eating breakfast with his wife Signe in heaven. She’s been gone 11 months and he hadn’t been the same since.
And like any good father, he made certain that we would all be okay too. Mark, William, Big Rich, Fat Rich, and all my other 12-step brothers and sisters will be fine because our sponsor showed us how to live the right way.
This man taught me everything, and although we’re all going to be okay, the world lost a genuine hero, a great man.
Thank you, Bob. Make certain you come get me to take me to the other side when it’s time.
I love you!