Fathers are often bad at good-byes. Some find them awkward. Some find them silly. Some just figure, in their work-focused way, that there will always be time for one later.
Mark Weber was an exception. He had a long chance to say good-bye. He was a career soldier, a lieutenant colonel in the Minnesota National Guard, awarded the Bronze Star for heroism. In 2010, he was on his way to a high level position in Afghanistan, under personal request from Gen. David Petraeus.
And everything changed.
Tests showed, astoundingly, that 75 percent of Mark's liver, the surrounding lymph nodes and intestines were strewn with cancer. Although he'd felt fine, he was only 38, and he'd been running several miles a day, the doctors shook their heads.
"They said, 'We don't even know how you're processing food right now,' " he told me.
Afghanistan was out. So were any other long-range plans. Experts gave him four months to live.
He had three sons and a loving wife.
So he did not accept that.
I first got to know Mark through an email. Then another. Then another. He became a long-distance correspondent, and eventually he sent me a manuscript for a book he was writing and self-publishing called "Tell My Sons." He asked if I would offer suggestions.
This happens quite a bit to people in this business. Sometimes you have the time, sometimes you don't. I think because Mark didn't, I had to.
The book was a series of life lessons inside letters, wrapped around the story of Mark's 23-year military career and his battle against cancer.
He told his sons about courage. He told them about faith. He told them to have an appetite for adventure, to be humble in success, to be serious but not too serious, to find joy and inspiration in life.
I gave Mark my thoughts and admiration for his words. He published the book himself, paying out of his own pocket, and sold the copies when he went around to high schools and other places, sharing his inspiration.
People gobbled it up. Mark had a direct and honest way about him, as defined as his sharp nose and cheekbones, which grew more pronounced as he grew thinner, the disease eating whatever it could.
Still, the book and its message gave him purpose. He was beating the odds just by living. Getting treatment, yes. Suffering terribly, yes.
A few months back, he wrote to say he wanted to come to Detroit.
I didn't realize it was to say good-bye.