I believe in the wisdom of my father. My father is not a philosopher or writer of any kind. He is a mechanic who never went to college. Yet he dispensed to me the greatest wisdom in one instant that I have ever been given. I have never forgotten that sage knowledge, nor will I ever abandoned it.
One day when I was sixteen I went to my grandparents for dinner, arriving about an hour before my dad. While helping my grandmother prepare dinner and set the table I could hear my grandfather ranting in the basement. My grandmother was visibly bothered by his manic behavior. I was accustomed to this because it had happened in previous visits; it was just how he was sometimes. In her frustration my grandmother took me aside and told me something – something I never knew – but realized it had been known in the family for years.
“Your grandfather was in the state hospital once,” she said almost matter-of-factly.
I didn’t know how to respond. I nodded, but in my head questions seemed to come like rain in a monsoon. I knew what the state hospital was; it was the mental institution that stood on the edge of town and looked like a European castle. Why was he committed? When did it happen? All these questions filled my head. But I held my questions and went on with the evening as if nothing had happened.
On the way home the question popped out: “Dad was grandpa in the state hospital,” I asked.
His response has never left me. It began with “Yes” and then a question as to why I asked. After explaining how I had gained the knowledge he gave me the following response:
“For years everyone has been afraid of your grandfather because of the way he acts. They were afraid because they were told he was crazy. I wanted you to make a decision about your grandfather on your own and not because of what someone said.”
That was all he said and yet those few words said everything I needed to know about my father and my grandfather. My father loved his father so much that he could see beyond the mental illness to the man he called Dad. I have always wondered what my grandfather was like as a young man and his dreams and ambitions. I have also wondered what made him lose his sanity. Was it the death of an infant child? Was it the pressure from a church that seemed too strict to him? Was it simply getting by day to day with a family to support? Or was it a combination of these? No one knows and everyone has a theory. But one thing is for sure to me: my grandfather’s memory and my admiration for my father are forever linked to one day when I was sixteen and I learned what it means to truly love someone in spite of their frailties.