Hero's story teaches us all a lot about life
Monday, May 13, 2013 9:46 AM
Usually, reading a book goes quickly for me. I get started and before I know it, that one is finished and I'm looking for the next one.
That's not exactly what happened, however, with this last one that I read. I first heard about Lt. Col. Mark Weber last June when I read Jon Tevlin's column, "A soldier and father prepares for the final battle in his last war" (Star Tribune, June 17, 2012).
Weber delivered the speech at a service marking the U.S. Army's 237th birthday. Weber has served his country in the Army for 23 years, earning the Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge, along with many other ribbons and medals.
His next post was to be a position he "would not, could not, turn down" in Afghanistan, offered to him by Gen. David Petraeus personally. Tragically, his career has been cut short by incurable liver cancer. He's given the cancer's "hulking presence" a name, Buford. And he's treating it, which will inevitably kill him, as "his final enemy" and his last war.
This first article that I saw talked about how he is dealing with this unexpected and almost unbelievable twist in his life. "I like to have fun. I like to laugh at hardship," he said, but that's just one of the weapons in his arsenal. He's also incredibly realistic, and is open and honest: "It's OK to be sad, to be mad, to be frustrated. But you can't stay there. You just take a knee, then you get back up again."
Weber and his wife, Kristin, have three sons: Matthew is 17, and twins Noah and Joshua are 12. That family is first and foremost in how he is dealing with Buford. His oldest son, Matthew, told what he'd already learned from his father: "He's taught me to be a leader, to be honest, to have humility. He's teaching me to prepare for the world. That's what a father does."
Many months later, another article in the big city newspaper caught my eye: "Lessons from a Father" subtitled "What would you tell your children if you had a terminal illness?" by Julie Pfitzinger (Star Tribune, April 7, 2013). That story is a book review, a book Weber wrote not about his career, "but lessons he wanted to share with his sons." In the interview leading up to the column, he talked about the book's honesty, how he and his wife told their sons about Buford, connecting to others, and about his illness.
Of course I had to get the book. Titled "Tell My Sons..." by Mark M. Weber, (2013, Edina, Minn., Beaver's Pond Press), each chapter's title is really a lesson that he hopes his sons will learn and live throughout their own lives.
For example, even the introduction has a lesson as its title: "...To be strong enough to know when you are weak, brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid."
I quickly realized I couldn't read it solely and constantly until I finished, as I usually do. I could only digest a chapter or part of one at a time, because it was so moving, and both sad and inspirational at the same time.
The foreword to the book was written by Robin Williams; in it he said he had first met Weber in 2004. "At the time, he inspired me in the same way all military personnel do."
That is exactly my experience, and one reason why those two newspaper articles about Weber caught my eye in the first place. When I taught at the university and graduate school levels, I could immediately pick out any student, male or female, who had been in the military. They demonstrated leadership skills, self-discipline and responsibility, respect for self and others, teamwork, follow-through, and were well-organized and polite. They were always a joy in the classroom. So naturally I was interested in this military person's story.
Weber has a Caring Bridge website, the address to which he has put out there in the newspaper and the book, giving us all a chance to visit. I was hesitant to visit that website. It seemed at first to be almost an invasion of his and his family's privacy. But when I finally did do it, it was like the book: joyful, inspirational and a learning experience. Of course it was also sad, because I know that sooner or later, the news will be that Weber is gone.
This is a book that I would highly recommend for book clubs and for "city reads." Better yet would be if families read it together, even out loud, maybe a chapter (or part of one) every evening at the dinner table.
My feeling about the importance of this book for good parenting is reinforced by the endorsement "blurbs" inside and on the back cover of the book. One example is Governor Tim Pawlenty's comment, "Mark Weber is a modern-day soldier-statesman who has given us a blueprint for how to build character - an indispensable quality for transformative and sustainable leadership!"
In the end, I think that Weber not only demonstrates the character and depth of the people who we are lucky to have dedicating their lives in service to our country. But also he is demonstrating what I saw in classrooms: how that dedication is applied to other of life's challenges, not the least being family and our own deaths.
In Sen. Walter Mondale's words on that back cover, the book "may as well be a treatise for all of us about honest parenting and leadership with character in love, family, faith and politics."
I don't keep all of the books that I read. But this one I will.
Purchase the book at bookstores or online. Besides it being a tremendous resource, half of the money that the Webers receive from book sales will go to Operation True Grit, a non-profit they started "to help support children facing hardships." (One of the great anecdotes from the book explains why.) That website is on Facebook at Operation True Grit.
Visit Lt. Col. Weber's website at caringbridge.org/visit/markmweber