I believe in the wisdom of my father

Matthew - Bowling Green, Ohio
Entered on May 28, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

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.