As much as possible I try and stay positive and productive about making individual marriages better on this blog. Negativity is unhelpful at best and can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure at worst. So it is important to stay positive and productive in approach about marriage. But just as roses are very beautiful, you can’t just blindly grab them or the thorns will make you bleed. So this is one of those “Danger Will Robinson” posts.
Two days ago Tom Ball self-immolated himself on the steps of the Cheshire County Court House in New Hampshire. If you have the time to read the 10,000 word suicide note he sent to the Sentinel Source, it’s here. The short version being that he slapped his four year old for repeatedly licking him as he tried to put her to bed, his wife called a mental health provider, and from there the police became involved and the situation continued to escalate through the family court system. After ten years of continued state intervention, in a combination of rage and despair at a likely jail term for being behind on child support, Tom set himself on fire in front of the court house and he burned to death.
I have thoughts on this.
(1) That it was unlikely that it was first time he hit someone in his family. Hitting a four year old in the face for licking is being out of control. Verbal warnings to a four year old do not constitute justification for hitting them in the face should mere licking continue. There are other effective parenting skills that could have been brought to bear on the situation. She was licking him at bedtime, so he could have simply said a firm “goodnight” left the room. In 1911 you could bitch slap your kids. In 2011 that gets you arrested.
(2) Most people do not understand how mandatory reporting works. When the wife called for help to the mental health provider, she likely purposely did not call the police and completely unwittingly contacted mandatory reporters, who then must contact the police or risk loss of licensure and/or jail time themselves for non-reporting. When she called the mental health provider only two options existed – the husband arrested, or both husband and wife arrested. So obviously she chose him to be arrested.
(3) That once the wife calls the police on the husband, the marriage reaches a tipping point where the marriage is immediately set on a course for a nasty divorce. This is extremely difficult to recover from even if both husband and wife want to save their marriage.
(4) That the wife isn’t allowed to change her mind, retract her statements, or even attempt to try and explain that what happened was a minor and/or isolated incident blown all out of proportion. She is reduced to victim status by the state and her testimony is regarded as impaired due to the perception that she lives in fear of husband.
(5) That the law enforcement and court system is not so much vicious but essentially as mindless as a runaway combine harvester once a man is exposed to it for domestic violence/child support reasons.
(6) That the current system can escalate the domestic violence situation. Once a previously non-criminal “good guy” is arrested for the first time for something he perceives himself as not guilty for doing or a very minor incident overblown, it may result in a response of greater passivity and compliance out of fear, but it more likely will result in enraging him. Thus turning him from a good guy with an isolated inappropriate act, or with mild behavioral difficulties, into someone potentially very dangerous. That danger may result in simple seething rage and hatred for his wife and the court system, or it may transfer into unsafe action putting both himself and his (ex)wife at risk.
(7) That the current system actually puts women at greater risk in that help may not be sought for minor incidents for fear of the state destroying the family/her husband. Minor incidents can likely be resolved with counseling, education and use of law enforcement as behavioral intervention. Unchecked though, minor situations will continue to escalate to major situations, which require automatic and severe law enforcement intervention. Usually though this intervention will occur after the fact of a critical event playing out. The old joke of “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” springs to mind.
(8) This case could have easily ended with the murder of the ex-wife and subsequent suicide of the husband; whether by his own hand or by police bullet it is suicide. This case is remarkable only for the final act of self-immolation on the court steps and the letter to the press. Many men commit suicide once caught up in the family court system, their stories would recount much the same as this one.
(9) There’s probably a young woman walking around completely screwed up from trying to cope with it being all her fault for licking her father after he said stop. Kids internalize parental drama. Knowing as an adult that the licking wasn’t the cause, isn’t the same as feeling like it wasn’t your fault.
(10) There is a total failure of general education of how to be married and a parent in America. This entire disaster could have be avoided with a better understanding of how to act as a parent to control young children misbehaving. There should be some form of basic registration of intent to have a child and mandatory training for parents to understand the law and positive parenting skills to act as a cost effective measure to prevent this sort of insanely expensive to the state drama.
As an important aside…
One notes how I carefully frame my statements to be in the best interest of everyone other than the man involved. There is no question that the man is the worst off in this drama, but he is the least powerful in this situation so appeal must be made to the interests of the state and to the safety of women if anything can be affected for the men.
Happy Father’s Day
(And please keep the comments focused on productive solutions and discussion, rather than simply venting anger. I do understand that the anger is justified, but I have made a conscious and clear choice to keep things on point here. I’ll get to my Beta goodness post tomorrow.)