I never was able to beat my dad in a foot race

June 21, 2010
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(NOTE FROM JEFFREY: In celebration of Father’s Day, I am reprinting the column I wrote 11 years ago when my father passed away. If your father has passed away. I hope you were able to take the day to remember happy stories and great deeds. If you are lucky and your father is still alive, I hope you were able to be with him to celebrate, thank him and tell him you love him.)

I said good-bye to my father today. Not just “see you later”: My dad is on his deathbed.

Max Gitomer, my dad, has been on life support for three weeks. They’ve done every kind of test and biopsy. They put in a pacemaker and took out several pieces of lung. They cut a hole in his throat to replace the breathing tube in his mouth. These are referred to as “procedures.”

Hospitals are not fun at the end of life.

I spoke with one of his doctors 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 wanted to say something —anything — a word, a final statement. But the machines and the tubes keeping him alive also prevented him from speaking.

So I began to say goodbye. 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 a game of baseball 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. 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 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.

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. He 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.

“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 1 a.m. and walked in the basement by the pool table.

We had a pool table in our house growing up. My dad was unbeatable. As kids he would play us for money, win our allowances and offer us advances to keep playing. 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 hear 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.

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