I recently read a book that had a profound effect on me as a father. I thought that “Tell My Sons…” by Mark Weber would be an ideal volume to share with you to mark this Father’s Day.
I also want to take this opportunity to honor a man I’ve come to respect greatly. I met Lieutenant Colonel Mark Weber a few months ago, around the time I first started working at CaringBridge.
Mark has had a CaringBridge Site, so I knew something about his situation and his book through his Site’s Journal entries, his book website, social media channels and his many media interviews. In talking with him, I found his strength of spirit and resolve striking, and I consider myself fortunate to have shared some of his valuable time.
First, Some Background
Mark’s situation was equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. He was a native Minnesotan, husband, and father of three boys. He had a distinguished career in the military — highly recognized and decorated for his service. He was diagnosed in 2010 with an aggressive form of Stage IV gastrointestinal cancer. The predicted outcome was grim and options were limited.
After an initial aggressive treatment, it became clear that in the long run it would not be survivable. Yet against all odds — in spite of them, really — Mark survived for nearly three years.
Fortunately for us, Mark became emboldened in his mission to document his life story and his point of view as a legacy for his three sons. And he graciously shares his experience with the world in “Tell My Sons…”.
After meeting him, I picked up his book and finished it just in time for Father’s Day.
Bringing Along My Own Baggage
As I read “Tell My Sons…,” I realized that it brought one of my own greatest fears to the surface. As a father of two boys, I worry nearly every single day about what would happen if I were no longer there for them.
What sort of example and legacy would I leave behind for them? As they grew and matured into adulthood, how would they remember me? I would hope to have at least some warning and foreknowledge to allow me to spend extra time and prepare them. This book is an example of what those answers could be and helped to set the bar for me.
Turning Life Experiences Into Lessons
The book’s style is hard to pin down. It isn’t a biography, a parenting book or even a self-help book, but it blends the qualities of all three.
To set the theme for each chapter, Mark starts with an excerpt from General MacArthur’s famous 1962 speech to West Point cadets. He then builds upon each theme, presenting life lessons he learned from the choices he made and including enough historical context to make them relatable.
He examines pivotal moments in his life, from his youth through the time he was writing the book. He doesn’t write much about his sons except to observe that they are all very much individuals with their own thoughts, emotions and outlook on the world.
Keeping It Real
In the book, Mark comes across as a standup guy — someone you would trust to have your back. Since this is his story, I would expect the wording to be carefully crafted to give that impression. But it feels genuine.
He isn’t preachy or overly sentimental. While he talks about the times he was right or came out ahead, he also owns up to the many times he was wrong or didn’t have a clue. And he doesn’t gloss over the rough spots. Mark tends towards brutal honesty, softened with a self-deprecating sense of humor, and seems to relish being descriptive about his family, marriage, fatherhood, as well as details of his condition, treatment and the resulting effects on his body.
While his career was spent in the military, “Tell My Sons…” isn’t about the military and its culture. His job examples could easily apply to the corporate world. And while he has faith and went to a Catholic boys’ school, the book isn’t about religion either. He draws out the universal truths from his specific experiences. I like that approach a lot.
How to Make the Best Choices
The “lessons” in Mark’s book are really about using what you know, your education, experience and instincts to make the best choices you can in a situation, and then in learning how to live with the resulting successes and failures. As to how far working hard has taken him in his life, he freely admits that he owes a lot to simply being lucky, or just being present.
The words of advice in “Tell My Sons…” aren’t unique or earth-shattering. But they are affirming to those of us who strive to be conscious of the people we are and how we fit into the world. Mark confirms that we are on the right path and the permission he gives is to just experience life.
Go on and have your successes and make your mistakes. The most important thing is to own and learn from those mistakes. Don’t run and hide from life. Learn to manage the things you cannot change, but do your best to change the things you can. The trick is to figure out the difference between the two.
Sage advice for us all, I think.
Pick Up Something Special for Father’s Day
To learn more about the book and where you can purchase it, please visit the “Tell My Sons…” website. In addition to being a great Father’s Day gift, half of the book proceeds will be donated to Operation True Grit, a nonprofit the Webers launched to help support children facing hardships.