My father, Bob Clotworthy, passed away June 1st, 2018. He was an Olympic Diving Champion and had a career as an accomplished swimming and diving coach. Above all, he was a vibrant, loving, and energetic man, who touched many lives. Below is the talk I gave at my father’s celebration of life memorial service, June 15th, 2018.
My dad would talk to anyone, which of course mortified me as a shy child and teenager. Everywhere we went, he saw people he knew, or introduced himself to people he didn’t know. Our outings to the store or his work often included pausing to have conversations with friends and strangers alike, and to my horror, introducing me, his introverted youngest child.
He also had a love for “the scenic route,” which usually just meant “being lost in the wilderness.” In his effort to get us off the beaten path, my mom, dad and I were once so lost on some mountain back road that kept getting narrower and narrower we ran the risk of getting stuck, unable to turn around. My mom was so mad that he wasn’t following the map that she made him stop the car, and she got out and started walking down the dirt road, back to civilization. I got out and followed her, of course.
There were many things my dad did that I rolled my eyes at as a young person, as young people do to their elders, that I of course began to appreciate in a new way as I got older. Now, with my father gone, I see them as what they were: gifts. His talking to anyone and everyone? A true love for and genuine interest in people. I have had countless messages from friends, family, students, and colleagues that knew him over the years. The theme of the messages are the same: people recall his enthusiasm, his vitality, his kindness, and his warmth.
And his getting lost on mountain back roads? A real sense of adventure and a love of nature that was unquenchable, even though it did occasionally cause some anxiety in his wife and children.
In honor of my dad and his incredibly full, joy-filled life, I wanted to share a list of things I have learned along the way from him: Gifts from my Father.
- Enjoy the sweetness of life. My dad never met a cookie, or an ice cream sundae that he didn’t like. Some of my earliest memories of my dad are at 31 Flavors. He taught me that there is always room for ice cream – it slipped down into the nooks and crannies. Even in his last months, when he was losing memories, he never forgot that he loved a Frosty from Wendy’s and would ask for one every day.
- “The show does not have to go on.” From my dad, I learned to never let obligation get in the way of taking care of yourself. A month or so before he died, I mentioned this statement to him, one that I had heard many times growing up. When I reminded him of it, he recalled a story I never heard, about being on his world tour diving exhibition after the ’56 Olympics (which doubled as my parent’s honeymoon). He was in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and was sick. A Sri Lankan doctor with a strong British accent told him: “Mr. Clotworthy, the show does not have to go on!” He would remind me of this over the years, and I am reminded of it as I try to push through obligation when I am tired or not well. In this statement, my dad offered me the gift of self-care. In real life, this looked like taking a nap when he was tired or excusing himself from a party to go read a book.
- Dedication is more important than talent. He told me many times that there were more talented divers than him that he was competing with in his diving career, but no one was in the pool more, no one worked harder, no one was more focused.
- “Every day is not Christmas!” I dove in middle and high school with my father as my coach, and this was a familiar refrain whenever I had a bad workout. Every day is not Christmas. Not all days are spectacular. Some days are just plain crappy, and that’s ok. We don’t have to expect each day to be perfect. This gave me the grace to simply have an off day.
- Move your body every day. We can all agree that my dad didn’t have the greatest eating habits. (see # 1, “Enjoy the sweetness of life”). But until this last year, he really exercised every day of his life. He loved retirement because he got to work out more. Somedays, he would wake up, do a yoga practice, go for a walk, have breakfast, a nap, and then go to the gym to take Pilates class and lift weights. He loved exercising, and it served him well for his whole life. When I don’t want to go to the gym, I think of him and that his fitness was truly a habit. I’m sure he didn’t want to go for every single run or go to the gym every single day. But he made that discipline a habit and it gave him an energy and vitality that was there until the very end.
- A pun is never so bad that it shouldn’t be shared.
- Never give up on the things you love. Up to his last days, he really believed he was going to ski next season. Skiing was one of the great joys of his life. It brought together two of his loves: moving his body and being in the mountains.
- Take time to read. Anything and everything. Read whatever you are interested in. He shared with me a story once that he only liked to read comics when he was a kid. His mom was concerned about this and talked with his teacher. This wonderful teacher said to let him read whatever he wanted, that it would help him develop his love of reading. I have taken this on with my own children and let them choose what interests them. Pokemon and Star Wars would not really be my first choice to read with my kids, but I recall his teacher’s words when he was young, and let it be. He went on to read much more than just comics, and it widened his perspective of the world and brought him much joy. But yes, he still read the comics in the paper religiously.
- A nap or a good night’s sleep makes everything better.
- Be who you are unapologetically. He was always truly himself, sometimes to the embarrassment of his wife and children. He was sometimes too loud about his opinions. Lobbing insults back and forth to his favorite people was his highest form of love. He was too much for some people, but he never let social norms or graces take the place of his authenticity. He was unapologetic about being himself, and he was happy.
- Make friends everywhere. Anywhere I would go with him, he would know everyone’s names and they would know his. He made a point to learn the names of the checkers at the grocery store, at the bank. He would learn where they were from, how many children they had. When he and my mom lived in Taos, New Mexico, he couldn’t wait to turn 70 because then he could ski for free. After that, he went up to the ski valley several times a week. On one of my last visits to them when they were still living in Taos, I went skiing with him, and I had to laugh, because everyone knew him. The folks in the ski rental shop, the lift operators, the baristas in the café where we went to get hot chocolate (see #1 – “Enjoying the sweetness of life”). Everywhere we went on the mountain was another person shouting, “Hi Bob!”
- Take road trips. See the world. Appreciate the land we live in. See our country. Meet people all over. Be in awe of the natural beauty of our country. I grew up driving across the country with my parents, multiple times, so of course I decided last summer that I needed to subject my kids to a 4000 mile road trip through the southwest. Without screens, so they could really see the world we live in. On our road trips when I was young, my nose would be stuck in a book on those long journeys, so every so often he would shout from the front seat – “scenery check!” and I was obligated to lift my head and take in the beauty of our surroundings. You bet I did that to my kids on our road trip too.
- Enjoy the wonders of nature. My dad had a great love and appreciation for the natural world. He would see the mountains and fully stop and say “Wow!” Every. Single. Day. There was never a day that a beautiful view became old or common place. He would literally watch every sunset, stop and appreciate every beautiful, blue sky day. I would call him on the phone and he would say, “Well, it’s another beautiful day in paradise!” This mountainous, blue green earth really was paradise to him. Being in nature gave him a deep joy. He was not religious, and not particularly spiritual, but being in nature was about as close as he got to the wonders of the universe, and he knew it and never stopped appreciating it.
- The last and most recent gift I got from my dad was a lesson in how to let go. As we sat vigil at his bedside for 4 days, I felt like he was in this internal process of letting go of this life. He lived so fully, so vibrantly. He made a huge impact in this life, as is evident by the countless stories we have heard from swimmers, divers, students, family members, colleagues. It’s a lot to let go of, a live well lived.
As we were sitting with him in his final days, telling jokes and recalling stories, laughing and crying, sometimes sitting in silence and simply holding his hand, I sensed there was this whole world he was experiencing inside where he was learning to let go of everything – his family, his identity, the world that he had been a part of for nearly 9 decades. It takes courage to let go. Our cousin Mary shared with us an image that came to her during his final journey. It was as if he was standing at the edge of a diving board, looking down and not being able to see what was below. Standing at that precipice, looking down, getting ready to take his final dive into the great unknown.
What I realized in the process of sitting vigil with him, was that we are all in this lifetime, learning to let go. We will all do it eventually, no exceptions. Eventually, we have to do the final work of letting go of everything. All of this life. And I realized that if we can practice now, it might be a little easier at the end. Practice letting go of our resentments, our regrets, our strongly held opinions, our righteousness, our attachments, our thinking we can in some way control this life.
The last person he heard from was his brother, the one person on this earth who had known him since the day he was born. When his brother said, “Mom and dad and Cynthia are waiting for you,” it was like the final piece of letting go occurred, and he slowed down and let this life go. It was profound and beautiful. His body had not moved in some time, and in the last moments his arms rose up and hugged in toward his chest. You could imagine in this gesture that he was being embraced, but in my imagination, he was hugging everything in to twist his way into his final, spectacular dive. His dive into the unknown. His letting go of it all, into the infinite.
Tens across the board to a life lived to its fullest.