How a million little things made a memorable father, family and friend

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!

This year’s holiday is bittersweet for me as it’s my first Father’s Day without my dad, Calvin Guthridge. He passed away in his sleep on June 11 at the age of 98. He was a Navy veteran of two wars, World War II and Korea; a widower married for 61 years; a father of three children; a grandfather of two; and dog lover of many furry friends.

Calvin, as he asked everyone to call him (except his children and grandchildren), lived and worked to the fullest. His way of being offers valuable lessons to anyone wanting to live a happy, healthy, long life. That was my major take-away after collaborating with my younger brother on Daddy’s obituary this week.

Calvin was hardly a workaholic even though he didn’t retire until the age of 75. Work never defined him. He had too many other interests and passions, which he pursued with gusto. Even at the office, he found ways to exercise and stay fit. Being a devoted cyclist, he commuted to and from work by bike for more than 20 years. Toward the end of his working years, he also participated on his employer’s corporate challenge sporting team as both a cyclist and a runner. He helped the team in at least two ways: his physical performance and a team handicap related to his advanced age.

Outside of work, he used his vacation time for many years to bike across his home state of Oklahoma on the annual Freewheel bicycle ride. He completed the Iowa Ragbrai once. And multiple times he rode in the Wichita Falls, TX Hotter’N Hell Hundred. (This event is 100 miles in often 100-degree heat with almost 100 percent humidity the last Saturday of August.) He considered it fun — cycling, spending time with my sister, brother, other family members (not me), and friends who joined him, and keeping at bay the security team members who wanted to prevent anyone collapsing from heat exhaustion on their watch.

Calvin also loved gardening, photography, sailing, and music. On the musical front, he got involved during high school playing the tuba in the Sand Springs, OK school band, near Tulsa. While stationed in Boston for the Navy, he took the train to New York to see Broadway shows. In addition to Broadway musicals, he enjoyed opera, classical music, gospel, and Big Band jazz.

As a family, we almost always ate dinner together, usually listening to music (vinyl LPs) and talking about our day as well as current events. On weekends, we often hiked in the area’s woods and visited museums. As the oldest and only child for six years, I have fond memories of joining my parents at theatre productions at the local college and concerts, including seeing the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

Both of my parents encouraged us kids to be curious, learn, and get engaged in the community. To help me pursue my interest in journalism, Daddy often took me to lectures by visiting authors and dignitaries so I could practice writing feature articles on current events for my junior high and high school newspapers.

Unlike many of his contemporaries in conservative Oklahoma, Calvin believed strongly in social justice and the right individuals to have autonomy in their health care and reproductive choices. He was pro-union labor, pro civil rights, and pro-gay rights. Four years ago, I wrote a blog tribute to his lifelong curiosity and courage to follow his own path.

While reviewing his life this past week, I also recognized how he benefitted from a number of factors, specific to his era and circumstances. He had good genes and was healthy with minimal ailments until his 90s. His father worked for the railroad and was always employed, even during the Depression. And the Depression combined with the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma encouraged his parents and him to save not spend, which helped with building nest eggs. Upon Calvin’s honorable discharge from the Navy, he attended college on the GI Bill. When he and my mother married and settled in Tulsa, his parents helped their only child buy a house.

Also, working until 2000 allowed him to become conversant in e-mail, a helpful skill for maintaining connections. Initially, he used e-mail as well as old-fashioned mail to stay in touch after he and my late mother moved from Tulsa to Oak Ridge, TN in 2005 to be near my sister, her husband and their two children. Later as his hearing markedly declined, e-mail became a lifeline for communicating with all of us.

Even though he took good care of his health, he made one miscalculation. Daddy refused to get hearing aids until it was almost too late for them to help. He knew his hearing was deteriorating and his response was to rely more heavily on my sister Rachel to accompany him to appointments and be his “ears.” (Thank you, Rachel!) Hearing loss contributes to social isolation and even poor balance and dementia, according to health care experts.

About three weeks ago, Calvin received a package with a picture frame and photo from his former boss, John, who had become a close friend after Daddy’s retirement. The enclosed note explained the item was a late coworker’s treasured possession that she had earmarked for Calvin. Years ago he had taken the photo, a candid shot of colleagues relaxing in our backyard after a bike ride. John said that all the survivors from the photo agreed that the frame’s quote most suited Calvin.

The quote on the frame, “Friendship isn’t a big thing – it’s a million little things. ~ Anonymous,” describes Calvin so well. A million little wonderful things combined to make him a one-of-kind friend, father, grandfather, uncle, and cousin. We’ll remember him well….

So if you can, please make some wonderful Father’s Day memories you too can treasure.