Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monster's Ball

Thomas Ball was not a perfect dad. That is what most will take away from the story below. I want you to take away something else: the guy was screwed over. Period. Screwed. Into the ground. And think about what you would've done had it been you.

Basically he had a bad parent day - we all have them - and maybe it was not just one day. I don't know. But I'm guessing it was. Why? Because he was fighting like Hell to see his kids. A real jerk or monster doesn't - they just walk away and forget they ever had kids. The good guys try like Hell. So it seems he slapped his daughter one day - hard enough to draw blood. How much blood? Was it from a fingernail? I don't know. But that sounds pretty bad. And it lost him ANY AND ALL visitation to his own kids. Too harsh if you ask me. If he had a history of abuse, fine, he's unfit to see them. Even so, he should've taken and passed the court's program - it looked bad, Mr. Ball - you've got to go. Sorry.

But he didn't go. Mr. Ball refused the court's rehab program (for reasons I guess at later) and instead he fought for visitation the old fashioned way. He didn't get it. Not one day. The FAT child support bill - oh he got that. And paid it too. But no kids. Big bill - but for nothing, as you can't see your own children. What are you paying for? Someone else's kids. That's what.

Let's suppose for a second this guy isn't a beast. He still has to pay massive child support. 40% of his salary or more. That's HUGE. Back-breaking huge. Then he lost his job - now what? You STILL have to pay support even though you're broke, folks! That is the law! Nice, eh? Down on hard times? COUGH IT UP, CHEAP SKATE! That is the court's attitude. This is how dad's willing to pay support have to bite their lip hard enough to bleed to keep from saying "FUCK YOU JUDGE." You could pay $1,500 a month (shutup, there are men who pay more than that) for 10 years - that's over $150,000 - and the moment you lose your job, you find a way to pay or else go to jail. Yeah, Fuck You Family Law. Fuck You.

Now I'll speculate - let's suppose this guy has a wife who loves to spoil her kids (I sure as Hell don't know many female disciplinarians). Its an assumption, but not a terrible one. Let's further say, this guy doesn't feel comfortable disciplining his daughter because... well... she's a girl. And its always tough to yell or spank an infant girl as a dad. This is also likely. Next thing? Baby girl grows up to be a brat because no one enforces any limits. That's what. And she acts out, looking for limits - if you think this wouldn't happen you are a) a moron b) not a parent c) all of the above. Suppose one day this guy cracks and cuffs her - and guess what, when you're bratty child screams a fake, angry scream, for the 500th time in the hour and kicks you hard in the bare ankle with her shoes on, you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget how much you love her. And in a moment, Mr. Ball forgot. So he cuffed her. He didn't break her nose for Chrissake. It sounds like he slapped her - hard - a big mistake, of course. His daughter would cry, he would feel terrible, and mom would consider him to be a monster. Is he a monster? No. He's a dad that lost his temper. In the old days this was called "good for you." These days its physical violence, abuse and criminal. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.

You spank kids on the bottom when they've lost their chance to correct their behavior when they are TOTALLY out of control: biting, spitting, kicking, punching - TOTALLY unacceptable behavior. My boy is an angel and HE has had those days; it happens to all kids. No way around it. And you cannot tolerate it. Not at all. If you do, I hope you like having a 40 pound dictator who acts disrespectfully to you at all times. I've seen kids - 9 and 10 years old - run up and kick their fathers - men 6'4" - right in the shin as hard as they can. Bad kids? No. Bad dad. One who didn't discipline the poor kid when he was 3 and 4. Now the kid is sad - SAD - when his dad gets angry while rubbing his sore shin.

So this dad had a bad day. And a worse moment. He eventually got divorced - a shock if his wife was Mrs. the-kids-can-do-whatever-they-want and he was not - very possible. It could somewhat resemble my situation with my ex - a woman who vied for the "stupidest parent alive" award. My son would come over to my place - at the age of 6 - and if he acted out, there were consequences. Not beatings mind you. But he was warned. ONCE. Next he was spanked. Harsh? When your child is sticking a metal object into the holes of a 120V electrical socket? I don't think so.

He would go home and an hour later I would get a call from his mother complaining he was running wild and that it must be because I was not disciplining him. I laughed hysterically and then tried to tell her it was more likely because my house has real rules and limits and consequences and hers doesn't (the absolute truth). She told me no, it was for her reason. I laughed some more. This continued until the poor woman eventually figured it out.... about 3 years later.

So Mr. Ball had enough. He went to court..... and burned himself alive. He knew he had been turned into a busted, used, worthless piggy bank - an empty one at that. So he was done. He had enough. He didn't want to go to jail - imagine that. He hadn't broken any laws besides not paying child support with money he didn't have. His ex-wife said he was "headstrong" and "prideful" (Either she's sugar coating the fact he was a monster or trying to spin the fact she divorced her children's father because he didn't like getting kicked in the shin. Also, please don't tell her those words were compliments to fathers 40 years ago). A close female friend said he was "a sweet, gentle person, just in a lot of pain." We'll never know who he really was, but my guess is, he was far from a monster and much closer to what his friend described than the article below captures.

Mr. Ball's story:

Thomas Ball, a troubled New England divorced father, took his own life in front of the door of the courthouse in Keene, New Hampshire on June 15. His suicide apparently was precipitated by Ball believing he would soon be jailed for being behind on a child support obligation he says he was unable to meet.

Ball left a lengthy narrative of his experiences with the court that detailed how he lost his children. It revealed a deeply troubled individual who nevertheless understood clearly the workings of family courts. Fathers and Families’ Board Chairman Ned Holstein, M.D. said:

The callous and disrespectful treatment of so many fathers by the family courts means that tragedies like this one are sure to befall the most fragile among them.

In his narrative, Thomas Ball’s pain and frustration are palpable. Anyone going through the loss of his children would understand his feelings. But that does not justify the violence Ball advocates in paragraphs 73-78 of his 15 page final statement. We sympathize with Ball’s ordeal in family court; we feel for his loss. We will never condone exhortations to violence.

Boston Globe reporter Mark Arsenault covers Ball’s suicide in his new piece Dad leaves clues to his desperation. Arsenault wrote:

On a mid-June afternoon, an unemployed history buff from Holden, Mass. announced cryptically on his Facebook page that “D-Day’’ had arrived.

“Time to climb down into the Higgins boat and take a bouncing ride to the beach,’’ wrote Thomas Ball, referring to the World War II amphibious landing craft.

Four hours later, the divorced father of three died outside a courthouse in downtown Keene after igniting himself in a gory self-immolation.

His death and final writings have resonated within the father’s rights movement, of which he was an active member, and revealed a stubborn man consumed by his court battles and, over time, sinking further into darkness.

Ball, 58, intended his fiery death on June 15 - planned and researched at least 10 days in advance - to be the ultimate profane gesture, according to his writings, interviews, and court and police documents. He was taking aim squarely at the courts he blamed for keeping him apart from his kids…

The courts and his former wife tell a different story. They paint a picture of a prideful and headstrong man who once lost his temper, slapped his 4-year-old daughter hard enough to draw blood, and then chose to remain estranged from his children rather than acknowledge he made a mistake and participate in court-ordered counseling.

Ball’s love for his children “made it impossible for him to accept that some of his actions were harmful to them,’’ his former wife, Karen, said Thursday in an e-mail. “He was unable to comply with the court’s requirement to meet with the children’s counselor because to do so would mean acknowledging that he had done something to warrant the requirement.’’

For years, Ball, acting as his own lawyer, filed one unsuccessful court motion after another seeking access to his children and to undo the requirement that he participate in counseling, which he rejected on principle….

Several divorced dads who knew Ball said that while they cannot condone what he did, they understand where his frustration came from.

“Tom’s story, other than its end, is pretty common,’’ said Ned Holstein, chairman of Fathers and Families, a court reform group Ball belonged to…

Trish Hamel of Milford, N.H., spoke to Ball frequently. They visited historic buildings and cemeteries together; she brought him to a blues concert several weeks before he died.

“He was a sweet, gentle person, just in a lot of pain,’’ she said. Most of the complaints in Ball’s last letter sound familiar from their many conversations, she said…

The Balls were due back in court this month for a hearing on a possible contempt finding against Tom, who had lost his job and had fallen several thousand dollars behind in child support. He wrote that he expected to be jailed…

The last words of his last letter were meant for his children:

“You are to stick together no matter how old you get or how far apart you live,’’ he wrote. “Because it is like Grandma always said. The only thing you really have in this world is your family.’’

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