Soon Uncle Mack will mark his 70th birthday. They’re celebrating the occasion tonight in Savannah, Georgia with an early surprise party. I wish Kish and I could be there, but we can’t, so I’ll express my birthday wishes with this post.
First, I want to congratulate Uncle Mack on making it to 70. In our long-lived age, 70 doesn’t seem like a big deal, unless you are part of a family where every male within memory has keeled over on the shy side of that milestone. Uncle Mack, the younger Webner men — Tony, UJ, Bill, Richard, Russell, and me — thank you for breaking through that grim genetic glass ceiling! Now we have a glimmer of hope that we might actually be able to enjoy our golden years.
When I was kid, Webner family gatherings usually included a heartfelt, if somewhat alcohol-fueled, speech about how ours was “the greatest family in the world.” I think Uncle Mack truly believed that. He’s always loved his parents, his brothers, his wife and soulmate Aunt Corinne, his kids, and his extended family. He is the Webner’s Webner.
And, like any good torch-bearer, he carries qualities that characterize Webners. What are they? A sharp sense of humor and a hearty laugh. A mostly stoic endurance of life’s slings and arrows. An appreciation of a cold beer at a raucous family gathering. Quiet support that often doesn’t get reflected in a hug or an emotional display. A willingness to let people try different things — with the understanding that judgment eventually may be pronounced, in pointed terms, about the results. (I think Laura, Betsy, and Billy will know what I mean.)
To these qualities, Uncle Mack has added a youthful exuberance and spirit. Whether it be writing a novel about crime in the Washington diplomatic community, or becoming involved in a cultural organization, or playing an instrument in a band, he has always been willing to dream about doing something else that might just capture his fancy.
I know this because, when Kish and I lived in D.C. in the ’80s, I occasionally played Sancho Panza to Uncle Mack’s Don Quixote. On one fine Saturday, he dragooned me into driving miles into the Maryland countryside to pick up lathes, band saws, and aged woodworking equipment, as well as a supply of wood, from an older friend who was giving it all away. Why? Because Uncle Mack planned on becoming a craftsman, proficient at making his own furniture and other household items. We spent hours on this exercise, drove back with a fully loaded Econoline van, and lugged the heavy metal devices into Uncle Mack’s inner basement, getting the van stuck in his back yard in the process. To my knowledge, that equipment didn’t result in Uncle Mack becoming a master woodworker — but that’s really beside the point. It was the dream that mattered.
Uncle Mack’s willingness to dream has served him well, in his career and in his life. It propelled him to law school, encouraged him to move to the Chicago area, the New York City area, and then Washington, D.C., where he reached the pinnacle of the trademark bar. He’s always been willing to try, often successfully, to push the envelope and move the law forward to allow greater protection of famous personas and other forms of intellectual property, and I think his imagination has contributed immensely to the fine career he achieved.
No one is perfect, and I’m sure Uncle Mack would readily agree that he isn’t the exception to that rule. You try to be a good son, a good brother, a good husband, and a good father, all the while pursuing your career and providing for your family as best you can. When you fall short, as humans inevitably will, you pick yourself up and work at it some more. And when the retirement years finally come, you hope to have, as Uncle Mack clearly does, that spark and zest that allows you to retire to something, rather than merely retiring from something. We can’t all have the verbal motivational gifts of a Knute Rockne — but a life quietly well-lived can be more deeply inspiring than the most fiery halftime speech.
I wish Uncle Mack a happy 70th birthday and hope that he has many, many more.