“That’s Something Your Father Would Do”


“That’s Something Your Father Would Do”

I’ve not been able to substantiate that those words were ever said about Arland D. Williams, Jr. back on January 13, 1982, but rumor has it, they were. See, it was an unusually cold time for the United States that winter. The Potomac River outside of DC had frozen over, and even as far south as Atlanta, the city schools were closed for a snow day. 

Williams’ two children, living with his ex-wife in Atlanta, were glued to the TV watching an unnamed hero, a survivor of Air Florida Flight 90, helping fish out the few survivors of the Boeing 737 that failed to gain altitude at takeoff and struck seven vehicles on the bridge as it broke apart into the frozen Potomac. 

Williams immediately began helping his fellow passengers to the rescue helicopter, choosing another over himself. When the last of the survivors was safe, the chopper came back for Williams who, just moments earlier, had been taken down as the tail end of the plane dropped into the depths of the river with the 74 others who never made it out. In all, 78 died, including the four taken on the bridge from the impact. As his children watched with horror, this hero saving lives, not knowing it was their father, his ex-wife proclaimed, “That’s something your father would do!”

Here is what Time Magazine wrote about “The Man in the Water” as this was printed before the identity of Williams was made known. 

So, the man in the water had his own natural powers. He could not make ice storms, or freeze the water until it froze the blood. But he could hand life over to a stranger, and that is a power of nature too. The man in the water pitted himself against an implacable, impersonal enemy; he fought it with charity; and he held it to a standoff. He was the best we can do.

— Rosenblatt, R., “The Man in the Water”,
Time, January 25, 1982

It sure was a creative title for his article as it immediately takes you to his famous, “Citizen in a Republic” speech that Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt made in Paris on April 23, 1910. It has become famous for the section of the speech that has been dubbed, “The Man in the Arena.” Williams’s arena was the frozen Potomac River. That was the theater he was created to perform in. 

We were all created to be spectacular and to do spectacular things. We may never have the opportunity to be heroic, but the question is, would those that know you say, “That’s something (your name here), would do”? Let’s look into a portion of Roosevelt’s speech:

 “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Vesna Vulovic, a Serbian flight attendant on JAT Flight 367, was the sole survivor of a bombed airliner. In telling her story, she said there was a feeling of gloom that day as they awaited the fateful afternoon flight. The pilot had locked himself in the hotel room for 24 straight hours. The other flight attendants were discussing family as if they would never see them again, knowingly. In fact, she wasn’t even scheduled to work, as a different Vesna was the one scheduled to fly. 

As the events occurred, the bomb went off about 4 PM in the afternoon as the airliner was crossing Czechoslovakia. The suitcase bomb tore the plane into pieces and all but Vesna were blown out of the aircraft. Vesna rode what remained of the aircraft down from 6.31 miles above the earth’s surface all the way to crashing in the field where she clung on to her life, landing her in the Guiness Book of World Records for surviving the highest fall. Vesna fully recovered and ended up dedicating her life to the efforts of building democracy in the region. Her arena, a 6.31-mile nightmare.

In our world today, we are seeing things that we would never have imagined. We have a decision to sit on the sideline or jump into the arena. Once, I was at a Starbucks and I saw two distressed young men. I argued with myself about butting in and offering help. I left the store only to convince myself to go back in and address them. I walked up to the table and said, “Guys, I’m a father of four. I’ve been through a lot in my life. If I can be of any help to you at all, I’m here to listen.” The kid looked at me and said, “F—k Off!” Shocked, I left at full peace with my decision, because had I not gone in, I’d still be regretting it today. 

One more story that has gained incredible national attention: Guesno Mardy, a Haitian father had his son, Gardy taken for ransom in Port-au-Prince. The ransom was $150,000 U.S. dollars. He was able to raise $4,000. The kidnappers agreed to the payment, took his money, but did not give him his son back. Back in the U.S., Tim Ballard, a U.S. government agent heard of the story and took on the case to help Guesno get his son back. 

Fast forward, Ballard formed Operation Underground Railroad and the entire story is told incredibly in the movie, Sound of Freedom. Tim ended up using his own money to fund a heroic effort that resulted in savings dozens of children’s lives from the sex trafficking trade, returning these beautiful children back to their families, scarred for life, but with restored hope. Ballard’s arena was South America and now continues to be on the big screens of our nation’s cinemas. 

What got to Tim was when Guesno said to him one day, “Can you imagine going to bed at night knowing that one of your children’s beds is empty? And not knowing where that child is?” This story had to be told. Somehow, this became a controversial movie, but it is not. It is about a man who followed what he knew needed done. About an arena that needed to be entered even at the cost of possibly losing his own family. 

What can be said of you today? Are you willing to quit spectating and sitting on the sidelines? Are you ready to jump into the arena that you were made to battle in? What cause will you fight for or risk everything for? Would your family say, “That’s something dad (or mom) would do!”

Article contributed by:
Jeff Pinyot
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