Of sacrifice and fatherhood

fatherandsonWith so much to criticize around here these last few weeks, I wanted to take a moment to highlight an absolutely wonderful story about a Virginia man who died last week. The man was deeply religious and the Washington Post managed to show that with a beautifully detailed story. Reporter Jonathan Mummolo began his piece as follows:

If you ever ran into Nokesville dad Thomas S. Vander Woude, chances are you would also see his son Joseph. Whether Vander Woude was volunteering at church, coaching basketball or working on his farm, Joseph was often right there with him, pitching in with a smile, friends and neighbors said yesterday.

When Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, fell into a septic tank Monday in his back yard, Vander Woude jumped in after him. He saved him. And he died where he spent so much time living: at his son's side.

"That's how he lived," Vander Woude's daughter-in-law and neighbor, Maryan Vander Woude, said yesterday. "He lived sacrificing his life, everything, for his family."

Vander Woude, 66, had gone to Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville on Monday, just as he did every day, and then worked in the yard with Joseph, the youngest of his seven sons, affectionately known as Josie.

There are many interesting items in the story. The father submerged himself in sewage so he could keep his son's head above the muck. The son, in critical condition and on a ventilator, still doesn't know that his dad died.

The reporter describes a lifetime of sacrifice through the eyes of family, fellow parishioners and neighbors. He wore many hats and the lengthy, page-one feature describes many of them. Here's a good turn of phrase, which ends the piece:

But loved ones said his favorite job was the one he did last: being a good dad.

"They always considered Joseph a wonderful blessing to the family," said Francis Peffley, pastor at Holy Trinity, where Vander Woude served as a sacristan and also trained altar servers. "His whole life was spent serving people and sacrificing himself. . . . He gave the ultimate sacrifice. . . . Giving his life to save his son."

Kudos to Mummolo who really goes out of his way to show what kind of man Vander Woude was rather than just coldly describe it. Well worth a read of the whole thing.

Photo via Tom A. at Flickr.

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