Gene Gorman’s memoir, You Had to Be There, is a roller coaster ride that takes the reader from Gorman’s childhood to the horrors of Vietnam, his descent into alcoholism, his fight for sobriety and following success as a salesman, entrepreneur, husband and family man. The one constant thread throughout all of this is his need to excel.
As the son of a father whose career in the Navy keeps him from home, and an alcoholic mother who drinks away most of the family funds, Gorman learns to rely on himself to provide the things he needs. His entrepreneurial spirit emerges at the age of eight when he decides to sell Christmas cards door to door. It never crossed my mind that I should give up just because a few folks slammed doors in my face. I remember that the directions said that it was a numbers game and that success was based on the “law of averages”—whatever that was—so I shouldn’t take it personally. I never did. Quite a concept for an eight-year-old. This perseverance and work ethic serves him well throughout his teen years, in spite of his growing addiction to alcohol and the anger he feel toward his parents.
His time as a Marine in Vietnam and the PTSD he suffers as a result, only fuels his need to drink. And he is a masterful alcoholic, pulling off ways to drink at the most inappropriate times, when almost anyone else would be caught. What I find surprising is his initial degree of success as a salesman while drinking on the job. That success eventually ebbs away, and he is not only estranged from his wife and daughter, but homeless. After multiple, ineffective stays in rehab and psychiatric hospitals, he finally finds his way to sobriety.
Sobriety doesn’t mean the roller coaster ride is over. Gorman is a man driven to succeed and that drive is full of bumps in the road. And once success is reached, he often feels the need to reset his goal and start over again. In someone less successful, this would be financially devastating. In Gorman, it seems to work just fine. At times, he comes across as cocky, but he tempers it by poking fun at himself. You Had to be There is an interesting, inspirational read. You can learn more about Gene Gorman at: