In 2012, I had a visit from a supremely talented entrepreneur whom I’d lost touch with a decade before. He wanted to talk to me about something, but he hadn’t said what on the phone when we set up the appointment.
Sometimes I can be insensitive. Ask me a question, and I spit out an answer like a human gumball machine. So when Gary Mendell asked me how I was doing, I told him about my various business and health travails, including a bout of cancer I had suffered through since we last met. When I finally got around to asking Gary what he was up to, I noticed the sadness in his eyes. As he answered my question, he started crying. As I listened to him, I did too.
He told me that his son Brian, the oldest of his five kids, had battled drug addiction.1 Gary tried everything. He sent Brian to treatment programs, wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools, and halfway houses. Brian’s struggles were at the center of his life—and the life of the whole Mendell family—for a decade.
Then, on October 20, 2011, Gary received the news that every parent dreads. Brian, who had been clean for 13 months, wrote a loving note explaining that sobriety wasn’t working for him and that he didn’t want to keep hurting people. At age 25, he hanged himself.
Gary was devastated. He wondered what he might have done better as a parent. And he felt very much alone. Gary told me that there had been another kid in their family’s town, Mikey, who’d had ...