ESPN journalist Ivan Maisel published a gut-wrenching column on Monday in memory of his missing son, Max, who is presumed dead.
The 21-year-old was last seen at his family’s lake house on Lake Ontario near Rochester, New York, on Feb. 22, and while his body has not yet been found, his family suspect suicide.
Titled “Remembering Max,” the heartbreaking homage to the photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology was posted on Medium following a memorial service on March 27 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which was attended by 900 loved ones.
“Max’s death has shone a light on the innate goodness in people, a quality that I am sure I didn’t appreciate until now,” Ivan Maisel said. “I think of that as a gift from our son. I have to say, Max, that on the whole, I would have preferred a dozen golf balls.”
He went on to reveal details of his son’s shyness and how much he would have hated being a Twitter trend. “In public, Max didn’t enter a room as much as he slid quietly along the wall,” said Maisel, who has been a senior writer at ESPN specializing in college football since 2002. “I should tell you that at home, he never entered the room quietly.
“As a small boy, he had trouble grasping social cues. As he got older, he understood them but they remained a foreign language.
“Max always marched to his own beat. As a toddler, he didn’t like loud noises, new foods or itchy tags. He was on his own planet and happy to be there,” said the mourning father. “We spent the GNP of several small countries having him tested, all to find out he is ‘somewhere on the learning disorder spectrum.'”
After dealing with his social differences while growing up and throughout high school, “No parent knows how a child lives at college,” Maisel explained. “Clearly, the disaster we have on our hands is an indication of that. We didn’t recognize the downward spiral Max was in, and that is the burden that psychologists tell us we can’t carry. As much as we tried, as great a job as our friends and family tell us we did, it wasn’t enough.
“Suicide can be an impulsive act … Really, what difference does it make? Accidental or intentional, he’s gone. Either path leads to the result that we don’t have him anymore.”
Maisel was seen leaving the Perkins Green campus apartment complex in Henrietta, New York, and his car was found near the Charlotte Pier the following day. Police, the U.S. Coast Guard and numerous other agencies were involved in an almost month-long search for him that was called off on March 16.
Read the eulogy below.
Approximately 900 friends and family members gathered on March 27 for a memorial service at Congregation Bnai Israel in Bridgeport, CT., for our son Max, 21, who we presumed drowned on Feb. 22 in Rochester, N.Y. Due to the response my eulogy for Max received, and because several people have asked for copies, I post the text here.
Thank you, again, all of you, for your love and your support.
Max’s death has shone a light on the innate goodness in people, a quality that I am sure I didn’t appreciate until now.
I think of that as a gift from our son. I have to say, Max, that on the whole, I would have preferred a dozen golf balls.
Eight years ago, Meg and I stood here and talked about Max, who on that day became a Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish threshold of adulthood.
Today we are here again to talk about Max, who we presumed drowned on Feb. 22, shortly after he turned 21, the legal threshold of adulthood.
Max always hated being the center of attention. One of the smiles we have allowed ourselves of late is thinking of how Max would have felt about trending on Twitter, or being the subject of a story on People Magazine’s website.
In public, Max didn’t enter a room as much as he slid quietly along the wall. I should tell you that at home, he never entered the room quietly. When Max came down our stairs, he hit each step in a way that sounded somewhere between a gallop and a rockslide.
A lot went on between Max’s ears, most of which he guarded very carefully. He let very few — actually, close to none — inside his gates. He did this for self-preservation. It was a learned behavior. As a small boy, he had trouble grasping social cues. As he got older, he understood them but they remained a foreign language.
Max always marched to his own beat. As a toddler, he didn’t like loud noises, new foods or itchy tags. He was on his own planet and happy to be there. By age two, though, we realized he was different in ways that were stunting him and we intervened with every available resource: Special pre-school, speech therapy, OT, PT, psychologists, specialists — we spent the GNP of several small countries having him tested, all to find out he is “somewhere on the learning disorder spectrum.”
Thank you, behavioral sciences.
With his differences, he gained an early understanding of who he was. He would not do anything because everyone else did it. To put it another way, he would not do anything because everyone else did it. Sometimes I think it was plain old stubbornness. But it always came from a place of self-preservation.
His Stratfield schoolmates always accepted him. At Warde, he may have been an introvert, but he saw everything. He had no desire to drink or party, he accepted who he was, and as he became clearer about who he was, so did we.
He found things that he could make his own and he adopted them: He had no use for popular music but he liked video-game soundtracks. He maintained an unabashed enthusiasm for Broadway musicals and comedy.
Max had a wonderfully dry sense of humor, one we tried to cultivate in him from the get-go. Humor plays an important part in the lives of both the Maisels and the Murrays.
I introduced him at a young age to Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers’ farce. For the next, oh, two years, he would walk up to me and call me swine, I would call him upstart, and he would pretend to slap me.
He loved Bugs and Daffy, and he loved Bob and Ray. Both duos delivered a lot of punch lines that remain in use in our house today. As a teenager, Max was devoted to the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and of late, to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver.
I will tell you that when Elizabeth got her wisdom teeth out last week, I was annoyed that Max wasn’t around to hear me ask her a question I asked him all the time:
“Max, does your face hurt?”
As he got older, he began replying, “No, but yours is killing me, and I don’t know why you even bother.”
You could draw a direct line in Max’s interests, from Thomas the Tank Engine to dinosaurs to Bionicles to Legos to Pokemon to BeyBlades to Harry Potter to anime to manga to the TV show Survivor to the movies of Christopher Nolan. He loved our dog, which he daily called the stupid mutt. He was utterly devoted to our cat.
Max was a black-and-white person in a gray world. He came up in a family of Alabama Crimson Tiders, so he was trained by three generations to feel a certain way about Alabama’s archrival. Now, I must tell you my line of work takes me to Auburn regularly, and I have friendships there that have developed over my 30 years of covering college football. But that was a subtlety that escaped our 12-year-old son. I once introduced the Sports Information Director to Max, as “my friend from Auburn, Kirk Sampson,” to which Max reflexively replied, “But, Dad — you hate Auburn!”
Maybe that’s how Max learned to hold grudges, granting a merciful pardon only when he had no choice, as with me and Meg, or with his beloved ski instructor in Steamboat, Josh Berkowitz. Josh pushed Max past his fears and made him a skier comfortable and competent on any terrain. But Josh made the high-school-age Max so mad one year that Max just stopped talking to him. When we learned of this, we told Max that was fine. He could just ski with his mother and father all day.
Max found it in his heart to forgive Josh.
Max was a rule follower, rarely varying from routine. He loved structure. He did well when told what to do. That may be due to birth order, or it may just have been his personality. He feared getting into trouble. He feared a lot of things. If something proved difficult, he got anxious. Rather than work harder, he tended to shut down.
But when Max decided to do something — once he moved past the anxiety — he did it very well. We regularly reminded him that once he faced up to the fact that he had no choice about becoming a bar mitzvah, he aced his Torah portion. Once we told him he had no choice about getting his driver’s license, he passed the test. And if you ever drove behind him, you know he drove the speed limit. Legend has it he once made the entire Warde Class of 2012 late for school, because he went 24 miles an hour up Melville Avenue.
Every major hurdle in his life, once he got over his fear, he leapt over gracefully and with room to spare. Mustering all that energy, at every hurdle, must have been exhausting. Our dear friend, Anne Pride, told us Max gave us a gift, that maybe he hung on as long as did because of his love for us.
That beautiful sentiment has soothed me time and again over the last five weeks.
Max realized that for him, his passions and friends lay outside of his immediate schoolmates and surroundings. By his sophomore year at Warde, computers became his entry into the video gaming world, where he found his true people. Max developed an online community of friends from all over the country. That some of them went to RIT was a huge factor in his decision to go there. We’d go to sleep hearing him battle unseen friends — chortling when he won, asking for another game when he lost.
Read the rest of the poignant eulogy here.