DUNEDIN — Over the heads of hair he cut, on television and out the window by the barber pole, Fred Mbiad saw the decades roll by.
Crew cuts turned into pompadours, turned into shags and coifs and back to crew cuts. As Mr. Mbiad trimmed with scissors and comb or buzzed their heads with clippers, he listened to their stories.
He freely offered advice on everything from household repairs to running a business. But he always came back to certain major themes: Be kind. Stay strong. Use your head.
Mr. Mbiad, the second in a line of barbers that spans 99 years and four generations, died Jan. 25, of renal cancer. He was 91.
"My dad was a stickler about taking care of each person," said Fred Mbiad Jr., 66. "He might take a half-hour for a haircut."
Times changed, but the way he pampered and instantly relaxed customers never did: hot towels before and after the cut. A facial massage. A shave with a straight razor if wanted.
Fred Mbiad Jr. followed his father into the business, owning Fred's Barber and Styling Shop in Dunedin since 1982. Mr. Mbiad had retired, but still showed up and cut hair Mondays and Thursdays in his son's shop.
"He lived for it," his son said.
At least two dozen Pinellas County sheriff's deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers regularly came to Fred's for their crew cuts, flattops and fades.
He always bid them goodbye with a warning: "Watch out for those screwballs!"
George Mbiad, Mr. Mbiad's father, learned how to cut hair in his native Damascus, Syria. He brought his family to the United States and opened a shop in New York in 1912. Frederick Russell Mbiad was born seven years later in Cambridge, Ohio.
He wanted to be a lawyer, to shield people from life's injustices. But college scholarships were scarce in a wartime economy. He made bomb casings in the 1940s and married Lillian Fotie in 1943.
Through the 1950s, he operated a home-style restaurant in Cambridge at the height of a manufacturing boom. Then came Cleveland State Barber College and an apprenticeship with a brother. Mr. Mbiad opened his own barbershop in Parma, Ohio, in 1961.
In 1963 he bought his first television set, with rabbit-ear antennas. Mr. Mbiad made sure he was free at midday to watch Let's Make a Deal, his favorite show.
In 1965, Mr. Mbiad closed his shop and went to work for his son in a Cleveland suburb. In 1977, Fred Mbiad Jr. sold that shop and opened the Sea Captain Barber and Styling Shop in Clearwater. Mr. Mbiad waited a few months before moving to Florida.
"Dad stayed to introduce the customers to the new owner," his son said.
In 1982, the shop moved to County Road 1 in Dunedin and changed its name to Fred's Barber and Styling Shop. His father gave two or three haircuts a day, twice a week.
They got rid of a cumbersome steam cabinet and began heating towels in a microwave. Some basic rules would never be altered, however.
"We try to always stay away from politics and religion," said Fred Mbiad Jr. When a customer wants to go there, he said, "We quickly change the subject."
Say, to sports.
The men "got all flustered" when Joe DiMaggio walked in for a cut in the mid 1990s, the younger Mbiad said, and decorated the shop in red and pewter after the Bucs won the Super Bowl.
In 1996, David Mbiad, Fred Mbiad Jr.'s son, a lead guitarist for the heavy metal band Bludgeon, graduated from a hair academy and joined the family business. Now 40, he remains the only Mbiad with long hair. He still cuts hair at Fred's Barber and Styling Shop beside his father, who has almost none.
From 1996 to 2010, Mr. Mbiad, his son and grandson cut hair side by side.
Mr. Mbiad gave his last haircut in July, four months after his wife died — a buzz cut to a 27-year customer. He died five days after entering a nursing home.
In 2012, the family of barbers will celebrate 100 years in the business.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.