Frank told me the story on the last night of the trip. Actually he sort of divulged it, kind of coughed it up involuntarily.
Frank’s older brother, who he idolized and adored and modeled himself after—and who had loved him and watched out for him all growing up, taking the place of a father who wasn’t there—Frank’s older brother was killed in a car accident when Frank was about 13.
Forty-five hours and 10,000 stories from this guy, and I was just hearing now about what must have been the single most formative moment of Frank’s life?
And I was hearing it, told in a quiet, honest, true way, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean, I could see Frank’s face in the faint glow of the electronic compass. Even behind his mustache, it was the face of a 13-year-old boy.
After a silence, I tried to express that I understood that Frank’s brother’s death must have been devastating. In fact, I was already beginning to understand that such a death might be so catastrophic and soul-tearing as to cause a human being to turn into a 24-hour broadcasting radio station with a tall tower and a razor-wire fence around it.
“I can’t imagine how crushing that must have been,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said quietly. “It was real hard on my mom.”
And with that story—story number 10,001—Frank was utterly and forever transformed in my mind—from an example of something, from a type of something, from something to be shown to people—he was transformed from a hologram, into a human being.
And when a person is transformed in that way, you don’t have to like him, of course—another sailing trip with Frank will be on strict conditions—but you do have respect him, acknowledge him as a fellow traveler, and in a way, love him.
And ultimately, that’s what we want our audiences to feel about their leaders, right?
The moral of stories: A person can tell stories all night long. But if the stories are going to do any good at all, they’ve got to deliver the bomb.