Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Review - Letters To My Sons by Stephen Merrill Weber

It's not fair to review this book because it isn't available for sale and you're not likely to get a chance to read it.  I'd like to see it published and would change the name to:

A Most Excellent Life

The book is written by my cousin.  Steve is 4 years younger than I and in our childhood, we never connected much. He lived with my folks the year I returned from my mission and we were in the house together for a few weeks.  I'm hesitant to admit that I thought he was just a pesky teenager and once he even pushed my buttons effectively enough that I decked him.

Letters To My Sons is a memoir of his remarkable life.  I only have space or time to hit the highlights, but I'd feel like I cheated you if I didn't at least try to introduce you to such a remarkable person.

Steve mostly grew up in the San Diego, California area.  His parents built a house there and Steve was able to be involved.  He came to love building, became a licensed General Contractor, built several homes of his own and a few for other people.  In High School he built a fine 19 foot travel trailer for his second semester project.  He worked in construction to put himself through school.  He served a full time Mission in Texas. He was called on a mission two consecutive summers as a finish carpenter for the Nauvoo Temple.  He was the principal builder of his parent's summer cabin in Wyoming, which he now owns and wants to operate as a Bed and Breakfast.

When Steve was 14 he checked out of school and sailed with friends in a 40 foot sailboat to Hawaii and spent months sailing around the islands.  Since, he has skippered a 70 foot private yacht in the waters between Seattle and Alaska.  He's been a competitive water skier and has spent days and days on the water.

Steve has traveled extensively at home and abroad and served as a tour guide on Church History tours.  He's been to Egypt, Jamaica, Israel, The Dominican Republic and Mexico and I'm sure I'm missing a few other foreign destinations.  He's a great fisherman, an avid cyclist, an expert skier, avid outdoors man and exceptional Scout Leader.

My cousin has served in several Bishoprics and was recently released at Bishop of a BYU Student Ward.  He has been a Stake Missionary, Scoutmaster and teacher in various capacities.  He is in high demand as a fireside speaker.

Steve has a lovely wife and six wonderful sons.  One of which is deceased, due to a tragic accident.

Now lets get to his career.  I'm not kidding, all this other stuff and much much more, he's done on the side!

He began as a Seminary Teacher and then moved to the CES Institute program.  He's taught at Institutes in Reno, Nevada, Seattle and Bellevue, Washington and Orem, Utah.  He's presently the director of the Institute at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

We've been friends much of our adult lives, yet much of this prodigious resume' was a complete surprise to me.  This book is written with a rich measure of humility.  It's intended audience is his own immediate family so there is no way or reason to embellish anything presented.

I am a lover of biography.  I loved this one.  Here is a man who has lived large, fast and well.  I can't stress enough how much admire, his accomplishments and character.

The quantity, variety and excellence of his accomplishments are not the things that most impress me.  Steve is not a heartless robot marching hastily through life.  Meaning, purpose and faith permeates everything he does. When he built his house in Issaquah, Washington, he had inherited a set of hand tools from his deceased grandfather.  To connect with his grandfather and heritage, Steve reserved one room to build and finish during those moments when he was working on the house alone.  He built that room using only those precious hand tools his grandfather had used.

When he happened to finish the last window in the Nauvoo Temple he paused and asked his good friend and leader to ceremonially, set the last pane.  He was studying the biographies of Saints who'd attended the original Nauvoo Temple and received permission to emulate a prayer service that was once conducted in the baptistry where he was assigned to build.

Friends mean everything to Steve and the long lasting, reciprocally blessed relationships he has maintained over many decades are astounding.  That kind of connection is only maintained by earnest, thought, tireless effort.

I wept for joy repeatedly as I discovered the heart of this most excellent man.

Thank you Steve for being who you are and helping me believe I could be half as fine.


Aleen said...

Were Steve's parents outstanding individuals that mentored him to become such an excellent man? How and why do men and women like your cousin, rise above the ordinary and even wonderful people with whom we normally associate?

Thank you for sharing his brief biography in such a well written format. Happy weekend!

Candleman said...

Yes, quite. Clearly they were progressive as they were willing to allow a 14 year old boy to leave school and sail the high seas for several months.

There was a strong work ethic in that home. There was devotion to discipline and a huge thirst for family adventure. Clearly, those things make a difference.

Also, from my experience, they were not stoic in the practice of Mormonism. I for example would never have been able to go because I'd have missed a few Sunday Meetings.

Candleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Candleman said...

I probably ought to add that Steve is fearless. He has broken countless bones a consequence of living life full-tilt as the say in football.

I'm sure it has brought him pain, but maybe pain is a necessary part of all this.

Clearly most of us hold back a little and that alone may be the difference.

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