Triumphs and Tragedies recounts the life story of Karl B. McMillen. The opening, written by Mr. McMillen, was the most moving to me. As he said,
I can only hope that the triumphs and tragedies I have experienced will inspire, guide, and even frighten those who have, or may encounter, any connection to drugs, alcoholism, addiction, or enabling. I survived the tragic deaths and lives of my sons and wife.
His honesty about his own addiction and seventeen years of sobriety as well as the drama in his family is stirring and depressing. He is now using his wealth to assist others so they do not lose family members to years of drug abuse and time in prison.
At times, the third person narrator telling the life story of Mr. McMillen felt a bit distant and overly-filled with early details. The stage was being set for McMillen's many successes and golden touch in business, but it created an all-the-more tragic backdrop to the fall from grace of his two surfing-champion sons who went "from positions of popularity, potential, and affluence down into the dead end of prison and pity."
McMillen is sharing his story to reach out to others in a way he could not grasp his sons to pull them out of harm from insidious drug use. As the narrator tells us: "Problem-solving in business doesn't always translate into problem-solving on the most intimate of personal levels." While McMillen "understood what people require in the way of marketed consumables and what they need to be productive as employees and partners," his sons growing up on The Strand Hermosa Beach "succumbed not only to normal adolescent life experiments and peer pressure, but to a high tide of social change never seen before in modern Western culture."
Mark and Chris were good-looking wealthy tan surfers in California and started not only using, but also selling drugs. When their funds got cut off, they stole the television from their own home! McMillen wondered about his responsibility in his sons' fall: "Did the boys do drugs because we drank, or are we drinking because they do drugs?" Their lives became: "Endless Summer meets yet another episode of The Amazing Race -- and Celebrity Rehab -- long before the tide of reality TV shows came rolling in." They wondered, "how did two young men with world-class athletic talents, surfer-god bodies and appearance, intelligence, morals, and loving, well-to-do parents drift into the lair" of drugs? Maybe that is the wrong question.
One son, Chris, recounts feeling unworthy and while it seems he had the easy rich life with so much to take advantage of, he followed his older brother into the den of iniquity. Why would he choose the path of drugs, dealing, stealing and jail? How can we empower all people to fuel their passions and choose reality over drugs?
Friends and family convince McMillen to stop drinking and smoking as his addictions are hurting his business. He learns in AA that "The reason most people drink is because they're restless, irritable, and discontent." This is after his oldest son dies, his second son is in prison and his wife has cancer.
At one point, Chris writes about his father, Karl:
Fathers always forgive their children and want what is best for them. A father is someone you respect, like an old oak tree -- solid, firm, strong, and unwavering throughout the storm of life. The father is someone you can always depend on. It is a constant; always there.
After years of addiction, jail, broken bones and cancer, he and his father are able to find love and forgiveness together.
"Do you use the triumphs to make life better for others as well as yourself? Do you look at tragedies as lessons, taking what is learned and, once again, making life better for others?" McMillen and his family struggled through many hard times and have chosen to create the Thelma McMillen Center to help others.
At times in American society, it seems that drug use and prison time are blamed on poverty. This story clearly states that drug abuse can happen in any family, rich or poor, and to those of any color and background. In this tragic tale, money can buy you better treatment in jail or rehab, but until someone chooses to change their life, those around them may suffer for a long time.
Families all around the world want the best for their children. No one wants to see a loved one suffer from drugs, addiction or a lifestyle of pain and jail time. Hopefully, McMillen's honesty in sharing his troubles will inspire others to rise to their full potential and to take advantage of each day to the fullest.
More about the book and Ken McMillen: Tragedies and Triumphs
About the Author of this Review: Lisa Niver Rajna is a teacher, traveler and co-author of Traveling in Sin. She is a social media ninja on sabbatical in Asia with her husband. Follow their journey at We Said Go Travel.