(NOTE FROM JEFFREY): In celebration of our recent Father’s Day, I am reprinting the column I wrote 12 years ago when my father passed away. If your father has passed away, please take the day to remember happy stories and great deeds. If you are lucky, and your father is still alive, be with him to celebrate, thank him, and tell him you love him. Please.
I said good-bye to my father today. Not just “see you later,” my dad is on his deathbed.
Death is a phenomena that I believe is controlled by someone else. For some it comes in an instant. Others go real slow and painful. Max Gitomer, my dad, has been laying in a bed for three weeks on all kinds of life support. They’ve done every kind of test and biopsy. They put in a pacemaker and took out several pieces of lung. In the process they cut a hole in his throat to replace the breathing tube in his mouth.
These are referred to as “procedures.” What they do is cut you open, cut something out or insert something new, and sew you back up. Then they heavily sedate you for days and put tubes and wires on every part of your body to keep you “alive.” Sound horrible? Looks worse.
Hospitals are not fun at the end of life.
I spoke with one of his doctor’s on the phone who was as matter of fact as an IRS agent at an audit. He said, “Due to the infection and scar tissue in his lungs, your dad will have to be on some kind of artificial breathing support for the rest of his life – or he can choose to go on his own without the life support and pass away. That’s about it.”
After being under sedation for three weeks – they intend to wake him up and give him a choice of artificial life or death. Which of these choices, I ask you, is worse?
I went to my dad’s bedside and told him what was about to happen. Even under sedation, I’m sure he heard me. He kept trying to move as though he was listening and wanting to say something – anything – a word – a final statement. But the machines and the tubes keeping him alive were also preventing him from speaking.
So, I began to say goodbye. I called his name and identified myself so he would get a bit of clear from the sedation. He stirred and pinched my finger to tell me he was listening. I tried to be upbeat – no crying. “Hey, remember the time you and Arnie played touch football against me and Michael – and you ran around and I couldn’t catch you? That was the last time we raced. You always won.” I started to cry.
I reminded him of visiting day in 1960 when parents came to summer camp for the weekend to visit their children. The camp counselors played against the fathers. My dad came up to the plate and hit a ball out of the field of play and over the tennis courts. The counselors gave him an ovation. I was so proud. My dad was the best of all the other guy’s dads.
And fathers want the same for their sons. To be proud of them. In one of our recent conversations he said, “Sonny boy, the old man’s real proud of you.” I just said, “Thanks, pop,” but inside I was as fulfilled as possible.
Now in the hospital, I’m by his side at what may be the last time we communicate. I thanked him for his wit and his wisdom. I told him it was OK to choose to die, that he would come back again. All the good ones return in some form. I told him that he had once again triumphed – bringing the family closer – even when he was helpless – and I was helpless to do anything about it.
I wonder what happens in the last seconds. Is there this rapture? Does the soul depart the body? Does it rise? Are you judged for your deeds in this life and given a ticket for the next? Do you choose?
My brother Josh cleared it up for me. He said, “There are no answers, only questions.”
Max Gitomer was a master salesman. The kind that made friends, made people laugh, gave them confidence, and kept people as friends for years after the deal was done. He was the best kind of salesman. Max was a warrior. A never quit, never-stop-trying sales warrior. He knew what it took to make the deal happen, and had negotiating nerves of steel. He learned those lessons from his dad.
My dad never let me come to him with a problem unless I also had my version of a solution. He never actually said I was wrong in my thinking – he would just say, “You got it all figured out, son?” That always meant there was more thinking to do.
“You know what I hate about your old man?” my buddy Duke said to me one day. “He’s never wrong.” Duke loved my dad and hung on his every word of advice. So did I.
“Don’t offer anything you wouldn’t be willing to accept,” Max would always say after he sealed a deal. I learned a lot from my dad. His ways, his philosophies, and his humor will forever be intertwined with mine.
Max Gitomer died late last night. No more pain, no more tubes.
The passing of a parent always brings to mind the stories of growing up.
Like the time he drove from California to New Jersey almost non-stop. Got to my house at one o’clock in the morning and walked in the basement by the pool table.
We had a pool table in our house growing up. My dad way unbeatable.
As kids he would play us for money, win our allowances, and offer us advances to keep playing. Well, since I got my own table, I had been playing every day. I was sharp. “Shoot a rack?” I casually offered. “Sure,” he said. Here’s a guy that hadn’t had eight hours of sleep in four days. I knew I would finally have my day. Score: Max 14, Jeffrey 1. I never beat him in pool either.
I have grown up and become a salesman, like my dad. He got to watch me make some big sales. Over the past few years I have become a sales trainer and a speaker. Max got to watch a few of my talks. I always did my best when he was in the audience. And now, in his new position as guardian angel, he gets to come to all my speeches.
I am sure that he will be there – somewhere.
Like any 52-year relationship, there were good times and bad. Like any good student, I learned lessons from both. And in the end, I got a chance to tell him I love him and kiss him goodbye until the next time.
I am sure there will be a next time.
And as for this time – my dad was proud of me. What else better can there be? What finer gift could you wish from your father?