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The Book of My Father

David Marshall Posted by David Marshall, Vice President of Editorial and Digital , Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

David Marshall heads the editorial department, which is responsible for 40-50 new titles per year and 5-10 digital products or initiatives. 

The Book of My Father

David & Gene Marshall, April 2016

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!