My father passed away February 5, 2012 at the age of 79. I’ve been thinking about him often this winter. A few months ago I read the book “Visiting Tom” by Michael Perry, and Tom Hartwig, the book’s namesake, reminded me so much of my dad. Perry is a writer who lives about two hours away from me in Wisconsin and I describe his books loosely as memoirs filled with humor, philosophy, and interesting characters. Simply put, I relate to what he writes.
Dad’s name was Delmar Gildersleeve. Pronounced “Delmer”, not “Del-Mar” and certainly not “Del”. The unique name fit him. He was a compact man, strong, with face and arms permanently tanned by a life spent outdoors. A farmer in his working life, and an all around handy guy. He could do all kinds of mechanical stuff, plus welding, carpentry, construction, painting. Dad took good care of his animals and fields and in return got the best from them. He was curious, studied the world around him, and with my Mom traveled far and wide. The last dozen years of his life they spent winters in Arizona. He took care of the yard, walked, explored the area on his motor scooter, and got really involved with radio controlled cars and airplanes.
Dad was born in central Iowa and grew up during the Depression and World War II. He was a wiry farm kid who had a driver’s license at 14 (there were no school buses yet) and graduated from high school at 16, just short of his 17th birthday. These facts impressed me.
In 1950 he joined the army and spent a year in Korea, where he was twice seriously injured. He had little to say about the war other than that a year of living in a tent cured him of any desire to go camping later in life, but we have learned that his unit saw intense fighting. The balance of his service was spent as a military policeman in Kentucky, and after being discharged Dad returned home and started farming. He met my mom, they married in 1955, and in 1959, a year after I was born, we moved to southwest Wisconsin, where I grew up.
Except for his stint in the army, Dad was his own boss. He saw what needed doing and got it done. As kids, we were an important part of the farm labor force and he would often say we needed to “hit the ground running”if there was hay to be made or corn to harvest. Our pay came when he would sell a batch of pigs and he would designate us kids as owners of a pig each. I bought my first guitar by selling a pig! Dad was a fair boss in that he would never ask you to do a crappy job without pitching in himself. If you had to stand shin deep in manure, he was right next to you. In retrospect I see that he was also good at figuring out what chores we preferred and assigning us those tasks. As teenagers we had our battles with our parents, but they were remarkably trusting and supportive.
As an adult I’ve been lucky enough to find my way and become my own boss. Visits with my folks would usually include a long talk with Dad, solving the world’s problems, debating politics, catching up on life. At the end of 1995, Sandy and I moved into our house and in January of ’96 Dad came to stay with us for a few weeks and was the primary builder of my studio. I had books, diagrams, and a plan, but he made it a reality. A guy who knew very little about music, Dad caught my vision and built the place that has served me so well all these years. There have been revisions and updates, but the bones of the studio are all him.
Thanks Dad, rest in peace.