Mark Weber came into my life like the first prize in a contest I'd never entered. One day about a year ago I saw this video of him singing with his son …
… and next day my speechwriter friend Randy Lee had me in touch with the dying Lt. Col., a father about my age who needed help with a memoir for his sons.
Being an idiot who doesn't recognize a worthy writing project when he sees one, I looked at Weber's material and politely told him to go jump in any one of his home state's 10,000 lakes. His themes centered on choices we have in our lives, and the difference between "can't," and "don't want to." I'm an intellectual writer, man. I don't go in for that motivational stuff.
Besides, it was June, in Chicago. After a long winter, I wanted to play golf, not
write a book on a crushing deadline dressed in black. (The book had to
be out by the holidays, partly because it was loosely assumed that Weber
would be gone by then.) Besides, I didn't believe one man could ghostwrite another man's book for his kids. And, as sick as Weber was, he certainly didn't have the energy to write it himself.
"I absolutely have the time and energy to rewrite," he wrote back. "In fact, I insist on it. I've been holding off on doing so until I can get someone to provide the kind of candor I need to hear, and it's been killing me. You're absolutely right about the ghostwriting thing. I do not want that. I want someone to beat the shit out of me so I can rewrite what needs to be rewritten in the right way… Iron sharpens iron … and all I've got so far is bread (cheerleaders)."
We came to terms and got to work and were both immediately glad we did. Amid a frenzy of correspondence with me, he wrote the book in eight weeks, and the book was out in hardcover in time for Christmas. It was picked up by Random House in the spring and excerpted in Southwest Airlines' Spirit magazine and Parade. Earlier this month, the Webers went on The View.
And next week the book is going to debut at #21 the New York Times bestseller list—news that Mark, who died yesterday, was too far gone to take in.
This feels like getting and then losing the ability to fly.
I talked to Mark on Monday, on everything from death, to the hilariously large egos of some Amazon book reviewers. The conversation, which I knew would be our last, reminded me of the single paragraph of Tell My Sons I most remember Mark and I connecting on:
"Many times in a good life, you’ll laugh until you cry. And many other
times, you’ll cry until you laugh. In the end, laughing and crying are
more like cousins than strangers. They’re how honest human beings
respond to a life they allow themselves to love, and my hope is that you
have plenty of tears in your life—of all kinds."
Thanks for all the tears, Mark.
As you always signed your emails: Cheers. —DM