Posts Tagged ‘Love’

The Book of My Father

June 9, 2016
David & Gene Marshall, November 2014

I love and deeply appreciate my 84-year-old dad, but it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had a strained relationship with my father for most of my life.

As a kid, he felt very distant, leaving it to Mom to care for me, my brother, and my two sisters.  His head buried in a book, he seemed to view it as a chore if I asked him to help me with homework, or play with me.  If I was hurting, he didn’t have much use for my tears, so I stopped crying in front of him at an early age.

As I grew older, he loved to debate with me about religion, politics, and how to make the world a better place, but at the end of each marathon session, my brain lay panting as he was just warming up.  I respected the hell out of my dad’s intellect, powers of persuasion, and commitment to make a difference, but I didn’t feel a lot of warmth coming from him.  He didn’t touch me much or seem to want to be touched by me.  We were about ideas, not feelings.

Dad was a Methodist minister who wanted to “renew the decaying Christian church from within.”  He worried that young people were leaving the church in droves because it was no longer relevant to their lives.  He translated the stories in the bible into language that everybody could understand.  He hoped I would follow in his footsteps, not necessarily as a minister but as a change maker. When I entered the banking world, got admitted to a prestigious business school, and later worked in the software industry, he worried that I was wasting my talents by serving myself instead of others.

I’ve been working as an editor for Berrett-Koehler Publisher (BK) for almost nine years now.  Our mission is to “connect people and ideas to create a world that works for all.” As a writer of many change books himself, my dad understands and respects this job more than my previous choices.  He reads many of our books and spreads the word about them in his newsletter.  Dad brags about my work at BK in ways I never heard during my previous work lives.  My wife Kate and I also write self-prompted family journals to help loved ones communicate.  Ironically, the first one I co-wrote with Dad’s father, Carl Marshall (The Book of Myself: A Do-It-Yourself Autobiography).  They say authors write the books they need the most; maybe that’s why I got into the family communication business myself.  Perhaps I have my dad to partially thank for this.

Even with all these ups and downs, as I sit here today, looking back on my last sixty years, and contemplating my next forty, I’m happy to still have my dad in my life.  He’s shared his wisdom with me, and has shown openness in learning from me.  We’ve come a long way from our cold and overly heady past.  We’re both trying to judge less and listen more.  Dad ends all his emails now with “Love, Dad” and hugs me tight when I visit him.

Dad had a health scare last year that made me realize that he won’t always be in my life. The time we have left together is precious to both of us.  In my last visit, I soaked up his wisdom about religion and spirituality for three days straight, and didn’t tire from it one bit.  He’s thinking about his legacy now and talks about hopes and dreams for the world after he’s gone, and the roles his children and grandchildren might play in realizing those dreams.  And I’m thinking about how to make the most of my second half of life, and see him as an inspiration for keeping mentally and emotionally fit—and staying fully engaged in life.


Dad, I love you to pieces!




Mom, We Love You!

April 13, 2013

I am the second of four children, first two boys and then two girls.  I have always liked this combination, because then each of us gets at least one brother and one sister.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Speaking of appreciation, not too long ago, my brother, sisters, and I were thinking about what to give our mother for her 75th birthday.   She has everything she needs for a comfortable life, so buying her a toaster oven didn’t fit the bill, at least not for this special birthday.   We asked ourselves what she would like from us more than anything in the world, and came up with this simple answer: for us too tell her how much we have loved and appreciated her over the years, from childhood to today.


(Teresa, Wayne, Mama Ruth, Kathy, and David)

My wife Kate and I, who have experience creating guided journals, bought a blank journal and created prompts for each of the Marshall four kids to fill out.  It covered our childhood, adolescent, and adult years with mom.  In round robin fashion, Kate sent the book around to each of us four kids, and we then took turns expressing our appreciation based on the prompts that spoke to us most deeply.  Kate made sure the book kept moving between sons and daughters so it would return to Mom in time for the big event.

When Mom first unwrapped the book on her special birthday, she didn’t know what it was.  But as she began to read the passages, her eyes started to well up.  This was not just another birthday card or Mother’s Day card with a page or two of appreciation.  It was a bound book filled with appreciation.  What mother wouldn’t like that?   Mom now says that this is the best present she has every received from her kids.  She proudly displays it on her coffee table at her home for all her guests to see.

Our own family experience with this book of maternal appreciation motivated Kate and me to write What I Love About You, Mom, to help other children express their feelings to their mothers (and even grandmothers) as well.


Mom and I spoke recently about what the book means to her.

David – Mom, do you still remember your response when you first figured out what we had given you?

Mom – Yes, I remember it well.  I was amazed and deeply touched by the outpouring of love for events that I had either forgotten or never realized how much they meant to my children.

David –  Why did this gift affect you more than others we have given you in the past?

Mom – Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?  This little book of appreciation showed your hearts, in your own handwritings, in ways that a blender or spa treatment never could.  It also outlasts any other gift. It’s a family keepsake for me to read again and again.

David – Which passages did you especially appreciate?

Mom – Well, I’ll mention one from each of you.  Your older brother Wayne said I helped him develop his love for music:

“You bought me my first drum, a bongo and enduring my bad playing, and encouraged my piano playing, too. I am still drumming and playing piano all these years later.”

David – What answers from your daughters moved you?

Mom – Kathy knew she was different from the start. She thanked me for letting her be her true self:

“When I was a child, you just let me be, let me be a tomboy, let me get dirty. You didn’t try to force things on me like clothes and toys, and I think that has been the case all along.  You let me be and trusted that things would be alright.”

David – And what about your youngest, Teresa?

Mom – Sometimes it was the little things that you kids remembered that really choked me up.  She wrote:

“I remember the pot roast you used to make in the electric skillet. It felt like home. And I remember singing to all the relatives whenever we went to Texas and Oklahoma to visit.”

David – And what about from me?

Mom: You wrote how glad you are to still have me in your life, and to have been born into my family:

“I still love and cherish having a healthy (mind, body, and spirit) mother at my age as I approach 50. Many people I know have already lost both parents.  I am very lucky. And I never would have met and fallen in love with your parents, Mama Lou and Papa Daddy, the best grandparents a kid could ask for. They passed on so much of the goodness of their souls to you and your dear sisters.

David – Anything else you’d like to add?

Mom – I wish I had thought to make a book like this for my own mother before she died.  Mama Lou, as we called her, was a powerful influence in my life.  As we say in Texas—I loved her to pieces.  I think this is a great way for mothers and children to communicate in ways they may not have beforehand.  I told Mama Lou that I loved her often, but never expressed the various ways she helped nurture me into the strong woman I am today.  I know she would have really cherished a book of appreciation from me like the one you kids gave me.

David – Just one more thing I want to say, Mom.  I love YOU to pieces.

Mom – Come give me some sugar!


David and Kate Marshall live in Moraga and write guided journals to foster family communication and self-discovery. What I Love About You, Mom, was published by Plume/Penguin in March, 2013, to show appreciation to moms everywhere in easy, fun, and heartfelt ways. They have written seven other guided journals, including What I Love About You for couples, which has sold 200,000 copies.