Alan Mangum is about as normal as it gets around here. He's average height and weight, married, has four kids, a steady job, owns a home in Taylorsville, tries to watch what he eats, exercises when he can, goes to church on Sunday, drives a Toyota Camry.

Mangum does not argue with this assessment.

"You can't get any more typical Wasatch Front, Intermountain West, Mormon family than Alan and Linda Mangum you just can't," he says.

So why has this 51-year-old man written a book titled "Challenges and Choices" about life's hard struggles?

He answers with a resigned shrug: "If not me, who?"

Mangum's book was published this month by Cedar Fort, a local firm that has made "Challenges and Choices" available through its Web site: So far, according to Mangum, about 200 books have been sold. That doesn't exactly make it the next "DaVinci Code," but, then, that was never the point.

"I didn't write it to make money," Mangum says. "I wrote it because I felt like I had to."

"People in our culture, our climate, don't like to admit to having really serious problems or to talk about managing them," he says.

So he's doing both.

Just looking at him, no one could imagine what Mangum and his family have had to deal with.

No one would guess that every child in the Mangum household has had drug problems, that addiction has ripped the family to its core, that maintaining sobriety is a daily and lifetime challenge.

"You know how you think in high school that stuff will never happen to you?" asks Mangum, raising his eyebrows. "And then you look around a few years later and realize it did."

He recognizes that he's put himself in a firing line by putting his thoughts as a parent in print.

"People will ask, 'Why should I listen to you, you screwed up?'" he says.

But that gives him entree to posit two key themes in his book: that parents, no matter how much they might sometimes want to, can't live their kids' lives, and that everyone's choices have consequences.

"The worst thing that we do as parents is take away the consequences," he says.

He continues, "My single favorite question for parents dealing with really difficult challenges their children are facing is 'When was the last time God took away the consequences of your poor choices?' And if their answer is, 'Next time will be the first time,' then I say maybe we better learn that lesson as parents."

"My goal in this book is to get across two things," he says. "Number one is we all need to accept personal responsibility for our actions. Number two is we need to have a lot more empathy; we need to stop being so harsh in the way we treat people who struggle."

It's Mangum's hope that his book will reach others wrestling with similar, and all too common, pain.

As he writes in his book's Introduction: "The real challenge isn't what someone else does to or around you, or even what you do to yourself. What matters more than anything else in this world is how you choose to deal with those challenges."

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.