Barnard N. Madsen has a reason to feel good this Father's Day.
The son of scholar Truman G. Madsen spent the last six years sifting through a small mountain of files and documents to write and publish a biography that he feels truly captures his father's remarkable life and legacy. It's been a rigorous yet rewarding journey, Barnard Madsen said.
"I blew through all kinds of imposed and suggested deadlines, but when the publisher asked if I could submit the manuscript in time to be released before Father's Day, that was a tender mercy. That was motivational," Madsen said. "It became one final Father's Day gift."
This gift, "The Truman G. Madsen Story: A Life of Study and Faith" (Deseret Book, $34.99), a last tribute to a distinguished scholar, gospel teacher, gifted orator, skilled writer, loving husband and father, was released by Deseret Book in May. The author has also set up a Facebook page at facebook.com/TGMbio and a website at TrumanMadsen.com that features additional material not in the book.
According to the author, the biography offers an inside look at the choices and principles that shaped Truman Madsen's life of scholarship and faithful membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Drawing upon documents, letters, journal entries and other personal writings, the author has done his best to relate his father's story in his own words. Readers will also find lesser-known details, such as Madsen's poor driving record, his far-reaching influence and how he balanced his family, faith and professional life.
"This is my attempt to tell the intimate story of the man himself," Barnard Madsen wrote in the book's preface. "His decisions and indecisions, sorrows and joys, regrets and aspirations, reverses and accomplishments, and, above all, his constant striving to achieve a balance between his intellectual and spiritual life."
'Change your life'
After Truman Madsen died of cancer in 2009, the question was asked: Who should write his biography?
Barnard Madsen, a lawyer for more than 30 years, said he created a chapter outline and sent it to his mother and sisters. "Whoever writes it should cover this," he said, adding that he would be happy to help.
Unbeknownst to him, his mother had discussed the topic with family members and Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew. Ann Madsen called her son on a Monday morning with an invitation he didn't see coming.
"Are you sitting down? I'm going to change your life," she said. "We've all decided you should write your dad's biography."
Barnard Madsen had never written a biography, but he did have decades of practice writing legal briefs. He optimistically told Dew he might be able to have a manuscript in a year.
"She said, 'If you get me a manuscript in a year, I will take you and your wife to any restaurant on the planet,’” Barnard Madsen said. "'You will need at least two years.’”
Dew was right. Over the next few years, Barnard Madsen searched in boxes, compiled thousands of pages of notes and began to write. With each source, he strived to find the "heart of the melon," his father's phrase for finding the best material. It was a painstaking, time-consuming process, he said.
"One of the biggest challenges was getting halfway through and realizing I was only halfway through," Barnard Madsen said.
Eventually, Madsen submitted a 660-page manuscript to Deseret Book. Editors whittled the content down to 488 pages of text with 120 photos, not including notes or the index. Finally at the finish line, Barnard Madsen celebrated the achievement with a tasty rib-eye steak at a Provo restaurant.
Barnard Madsen wrote the book in two parts. Section 1 is titled "Enter to Learn" and describes Truman Madsen's family heritage, upbringing and relationships and how they shaped his faith and career.
Section 2 is called "Forth to Serve" and follows how Truman Madsen incorporated his study and faith into his life.
Those who read the thick hardback volume will learn about Truman Madsen's prolific academic career as a Brigham Young University professor and his insightful lectures and books about Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith, as well as stories about his family life and dedicated service in the LDS Church.
They will also discover a few lesser-known personal details, Barnard Madsen said in a recent interview with the Deseret News.
One such story involved Truman Madsen spending time in jail. Barnard never heard the story directly from his father, but he found documentation in the files.
In June 1946, Truman Madsen served 17 days in the Salt Lake County Jail for running a red light, speeding and driving on a suspended license (the book features a photo of the jail visitation card on page 106). Following his release, Truman Madsen was ordained an elder, received his endowment in the Salt Lake Temple and left on his mission to Boston, Barnard Madsen said.
"Truman Madsen was a bit of a street racer in his day," Barnard Madsen said with a laugh. "To me, one of the evidences I have of divine intervention is that my dad died of cancer instead of a car crash."
One "pinnacle experience" for father and son came in the middle of the night six days before Truman Madsen died. He was having a bad reaction to some medicine and struggled through the night. At one point during that ordeal, Barnard noticed his father was praying.
"He said with great sincerity, 'Thank you — for every moment, every minute. We love you. We do. You have done glorious things to me. You know you have. Thank you. Thank you,’” Barnard Madsen said. "His body was filled with cancer and he was thanking the Lord. That example of enduring well with grace and good humor until the end was a huge thing for me."
One of Truman Madsen's lifelong passions was studying the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who organized the LDS Church. Madsen read everything he could find from those who knew the Prophet, especially members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other early church leaders, because they knew Joseph's true character. Knowing the Prophet's character helped Truman Madsen trust what he taught. He could then go and speak eloquently about Joseph's life for hours and without notes.
Truman Madsen shared his knowledge and testimony of Joseph Smith in a lecture series called "Joseph Smith the Prophet" that is still popular today, Barnard Madsen said. In fact, that series, which features Truman Madsen's rich vocal inflections and cadence, is what people remember the most about him, Barnard Madsen said.
"There are bootlegged copies all over the world," Barnard Madsen said. "It's amazing. Wherever I go, anywhere in the world, people tell me how they loved him, even though they'd never met him. They knew the voice. We had lots of people tell us they listened to my dad every night because he helps them go to sleep. His influence has been far-reaching."
One day, Barnard Madsen was buying new tires. As he paid, the tattooed man at the cash register noticed his last name and asked if he was related to Truman Madsen. When Barnard Madsen said Truman Madsen was his dad, a tear streamed down the man's face as he recalled listening to the tapes with his wife on their honeymoon. He even had a Truman Madsen talk in his car stereo at that very moment.
On another occasion, a 14-year-old boy from Australia, the only Mormon in his school, heard the tapes and later emailed Truman Madsen, Barnard Madsen said.
"Your tapes helped me keep a testimony of Joseph Smith, helped me have the faith to go on a mission and marry in the temple," the young man wrote. "If you ever wonder if you’ve had an influence on anybody in your life, know that you changed the life of a little boy in Australia."
Truman Madsen's mother died when he was 2 years old. He was raised by his father and extended family. He carried that love and commitment to family throughout his life. Barnard Madsen said being Truman Madsen's son is one of the great privileges of his life and that he felt very close to his father as he worked on the biography.
"He really was a father first the best dad ever," Barnard Madsen said. "And somehow he balanced his church service with his family life and professional life in a really good way."
Balance is one of the principles that defined Truman Madsen's life, and one that the author hopes readers will take away from his biography.
"How do you figure out your life's mission? How do you overcome failures and weakness? How do you deal with disagreements in marriage? Do you have the faith to follow the brethren?" Barnard Madsen said. "In telling his story, it was interesting to see the life lessons and how relevant they are now."
Looking back, Barnard Madsen said his mother was right: Writing his father's biography did change his life.
"It has had a huge impact on me. My dad's life changed my life. It was a privilege and honor," Barnard Madsen said. "And I think the story of his life can help a lot of people as well."
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