Happy Birthday, Dad
Fred Gielow. April 30, 2024.

The road back home
The road back home

It's April 30th.
Dad's birthday.

Don't remember Mom's.
In February, I think.
28th? 27th?
One of those.

Dad was always there when I was a kid.
He used to tuck me into bed at night.
Once, I told him I couldn't remember my birth date.
He asked if I had heard the phrase "Sweet 16."
I said no.
But I've remembered it ever since.

He'd sometimes work at his workbench in the basement.
Once he made an electrical outlet cover.
Made it out of wood.
I thought it was amazing.
He worked hard to make it just right.
It was.

Once, he brought home an artillery shell.
No idea where he got it.
There was no powder in the casing.
But the cap was intact.
He removed the shell.
He clamped the casing in his vise.
I was there to watch.
He hit the cap with a hammer and spike.
That was fun.

He gave me two spankings.
Don't remember what I did wrong.
He put me over his knee.
He spanked me with his hand.
It really hurt.
Not so much the spanking.
But that I had done something wrong.

I used to walk to Grand River Avenue in Detroit to meet Dad.
He would take the bus to and from work downtown.
So Mom could use the car.
We'd walk back home together.
His pace was always faster than mine.
I had to run a little to keep up.
Those moments with Dad were special.

He liked to work in the garden.
He'd come into the house sweating from head to toe.
Then he'd take a shower.

I had trouble swallowing pills.
There were many tries.
Never success.
Something had to be done.
Dad drove me to the doctor's office.
I was terrified.
I cried.
I was frantic.
Don't remember what the doctor said or did.

He took me to his law office on Saturday a time or two.
I played with an adding machine while he worked.
I had lots of fun.
Used up lots and lots of paper on the roll.

We were walking along a road at the cottage.
I had keys that jingled together as we walked.
Dad made up a little song about it.
And sang it.
Made me feel good.

He helped with an experiment in a kit I got for my birthday.
It was to crystalize sugar on a string hanging in a glass jar.
We had to use lots of sugar.
We kept adding more and more.
Dad worried Mom wouldn't like that.

My brother took a tumble at the cottage.
He leaned on a deck railing.
The railing gave way.
Jim fell three or four feet onto the sand.
He landed on his arm.
Dad said, "Let me take a look at that."
He felt Jim's arm and knew it needed attention.
Jim arm was broken.
The doctor said, "Who set this arm? It's perfect!"

There was an incident with a grade school teacher.
Dad drove to the teacher's house.
Don't know what he said.
But the problem was solved.
I didn't know anything about this until decades later
when my brother told me.

Dad sometimes helped with schoolwork.
I hated Latin in high school.
I was having a hard time with it.
He helped me get through.

I gave Dad a knob for the family car steering wheel.
I don't think he liked it.
He put it on the steering wheel anyway.
I thought it was great.

He got a speeding ticket at the cottage once.
He was only a little over the limit.
Must have been really humiliating.
He didn't show it.
The whole family was in the car.

Dad and I went to a special dinner.
It was at my college fraternity.
There was a mixup.
When we got there, the dinner was already over.
Later, Mom and others asked how the dinner went.
Dad said it was wonderful.

Mom and Dad went on vacation to Europe one summer.
When they got back, some baggage was missing.
I heard Dad on the phone.
He was using words I had never heard him use before.
He was furious.
I had never seen him so angry.
He was always so upbeat.
So easy going.
So happy.
I was startled to see he was capable of such an outburst.
I was very confused.

Mom went by herself to an evening church affair.
Dad became anxious.
He paced the house, looking out the windows.
Dad really loved Mom.

I had a summer job.
It was with GE.
I mentioned to Dad how I was taught to pad my
expense account.
He said I shouldn't do that.
It's not right.
From then on, I didn't do that.

Dad was "Gramps" to my two sons.
He was dubbed "Head of the Household" at the cottage.
The kids would ask HOH to be excused from
the dinner table when they were finished eating.
It was a fine tradition.

Each morning at the cottage, Dad would put up the flag.
Each evening, he'd take it down.
It was a sacred ritual.
Seven days a week.

Once, Dad and a friend planned a trip to England.
They flew to JFK to catch their international flight.
I drove from Woodstock to JFK.
I was able to find the two of them at the terminal.
That was miraculous.
I gave Dad a couple of bon voyage gifts.
I really enjoyed doing that.

I wanted to give Dad a birthday present.
It was too delicate to send through the mail.
I was able to route a business trip through Detroit.
I left the gift in a locker at the airport.
Then I sent Dad the key.
When Dad got to the locker, it was blocked.
He had to pay a fine.
Seems lockers may only be used for up to 24 hours.
But he got the gift.
And it was undamaged.

Dad was in the hospital for surgery.
I called him.
We talked for a while.
He seemed irritated and uncomfortable.
Uncharacteristically so.
Early the next morning, I got a call from his doctor.
Dad had died during the night.
That was 39 years ago.

Happy birthday, Dad.