Dads, please don't set yourselves on fire.

I’ve said before that the word “literally” is overused and misused in our culture. I’m guilty of it, and so are many others. It’s not a big deal, except for the fact that when you really need the word, its meaning has been diminished.

But guys, today we have a story about a man who literally and successfully set himself on fire on the courthouse steps and died. To quote a tipster: “If burning yourself alive to protest the court system isn’t sensational enough to merit a mention on ATL, I don’t know what is.”

No doubt.

But why self-immolation? Well, let’s take a look at the man’s 10,000 word suicide note….

Thomas James Ball of New Hampshire had been through a divorce and a battle with his ex-wife over child support. He believed he was facing jail time. His suicide was in protest of the family court system he felt had done him wrong. The New Hampshire Union Leader reports:

Ball ended his life in front of the courthouse where two thick files trace the disintegration of his marriage. The files include reports of slaps on the face of a preschooler. An arrest. A subsequent divorce. Visitation disputes. Orders to pay child support. A pending contempt charge….

In his letter, Ball said he was facing jail time.

“I am due in court the end of the month. The ex-wife lawyer wants me jailed for back child support. The amount ranges from $2,200 to $3,000 depending on who you ask. Not big money after being separated over ten years and unemployed for the last two. But I do owe it. If I show up for court without the money and the lawyer say jail, then the judge will have the bailiff take me into custody. There really are no surprises on how the system works once you know how it actually works. And it does not work anything like they taught you in high school history or civics class,” he wrote.

Ball was set to appear in court on June 24 for not following a judge’s order that he pay half of his children’s medical expenses — $2,062 — that his ex-wife, Karen Ball of Jaffrey, had paid.

Yeah, you know what’s worse than defaulting on your student debts? Not paying your child support. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that if you had a choice between paying your student debts or making your child support payments, the morally superior choice would be to pay your child support and circle back to your student payments when you can.

Obviously, Ball had bigger problems than an outstanding $2,062 debt:

Little of the rambling letter makes much sense. But Ball recounts a 2001 incident in which he was accused of hitting one of his children and which seemed to precipitate the divorce.

“My story starts with the infamous slapping incident of April 2001,” he wrote. While putting his 4-year-old daughter to bed, she began to lick his hand, he warned her three times to stop then slapped her.

Ball cut her lip, and his wife asked him to leave the house, he wrote…

Karen Ball filed for divorce three days after the slapping took place.

Okay, you’d think that a guy who shirks his child support, slaps around his kid, and then lights himself on fire wouldn’t engender much sympathy. But check out this commenter on the Union Leader website:

Regardless of whether he was a stellar parent or a really bad parent, plain fact is the Domestic Relations legal arena of the court system had taken its toll on this individual. The consistency lies in the court systems’ ability to absolutely destroy a persons’ life and its advocacy for doing so. The manner in which people handle to stresses that follows after a trip to court obviously vary with this extreme being played out at the front door of Cheshire Superior Court. Some will likely read his last writings and say he was a nut. Perhaps Tom Ball was a nut, but it also might logically follow that his contact with the system contributed to his downward spiral.

this story serves to remind us of the irony in the marital court adjudication system. DV laws were somehow supposed to protect an abused spouse, but now frequently serve as a legal bludgeon from one spouse on another. When that occurs, we the public will unfortunately witness from time to time, the limits of ones’ stress.

Well, it’s nice to know that Above the Law doesn’t have a monopoly on crazy-ass commenters. Domestic violence laws “were somehow supposed to protect an abused spouse.” YOU THINK? Is this guy honestly suggesting that we’ve gone too far in protecting abused spouses and children and now we need to scale back unless we want an epidemic of people burning themselves?

And for what it’s worth, I don’t think I’m the only one who would rather face a “legal bludgeon” than be bludgeoned by a deadbeat father my mom needs to sue every time I have a medical problem.

In any event, Happy Father’s Day. If you have a Dad who didn’t beat or molest you, didn’t embezzle money from you or your family, and kept his whoring enough on the down-low that he has never had to address it in a press conference, you better be getting that man a present.

Dads who manage to avoid all of the things mentioned in the previous paragraph are hard to find, and deserving of praise.

Keene suicide saw jail in his future [New Hampshire Union Leader]


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