Unhappy Father’s Day?

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.)


  1. TBH I was very sad at seeing someone took his own life, however, I did think the kick off incidence was bizarre. She was 3 or 4 years old and she licked his hand. And he gave her a cut lip.

    He didn't disclose why they had a mental health worker on file for one of the kids.

    I am not a parenting expert, I am a new parent. But I just can't imagine this situation with my guy would give one of our babies a cut lip. At their age or 3. It's worrying. But I just can't imagine him smacking them (and he's pretty alpha). Perhaps this guy's wife thought the same thing though. *mind boggles*. No I still can't see it.

  2. "There is no question that the man is the worst off in this drama,"
    I just reread your post. Still thinking about it.
    But…isn't there?
    What about the kid?

  3. This situation is truly a tragedy all around. My gut reaction to the end of your post, though, is that the child is the worst off in this situation, not the man. I agree with much of what you wrote about the system. It's criminal the system targets families like this while others that torture and sexually abuse children for years seem to continue with impunity. There is no excuse for his actions, but it is just as wrong that asking for help from a mental health provider would put such a tragic chain of events in motion. Such a sobering thought for Fathers Day.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The State "family court" system is monstrous. A simple, positive improvement would be to eliminate it altogether.

    Also, while I agree that marriage and parenting education is abysmal, I believe that State-sponsored family education is a bad idea. If the State's lack of adaptability and pattern of general mindless brutality is the problem, we shouldn't hand yet another area of people's lives over to the very same organization that caused the problem in the first place.

    Not one person I know in my generation has a great marriage. All our parents were divorced in the modern no-fault legal system. As a result, no one has any credible role models for successful marriages. In my case, it was the Internet and books like yours that introduced me to these ideas for the first time, although I may be about 10 years too late.

    My recommendation is to get Athol's book into the hands of as many 20-something males as possible.

  5. My thought halfway through was – remember to handle things myself. Which just shows how such harsh laws can reduce the protection of families and children.

    Remember the cycle of violence – the abuser was also a victim, as was the family member that abused me as a child. From a viewpoint many decades away I would ask for compassion and measures to both protect and rehabilitate.

    Education can help people stand up to bullies and protect the helpless without the law becoming involved.

    One needs to know what constitutes abuse and possible strategies to deal with it.

    Pamphlets and posters help in that one can point to them and remind the bully their behaviour is on the list of abusive behaviours. This has helped me deal with one person who was tending towards domestic abuse and to pull another chronic bully up in his tracks.

    Perhaps Athol could write a post on how to deal with abusive spouses (both genders please).

    Please note, what I did (and its a bit more complicated than the above) might not work for everyone. Sometimes you do need to call the police or to leave the influence of the abuser.

  6. knightblaster says:

    I have to say I was not very moved by this case. He had no business acting like that toward his daughter, and it's a pretty serious issue. Like Athol, I tend to think that this was very unlikely an isolated incident, and that this family was better off with this guy not being physically present. It's tragic that he killed himself, but, really, killing yourself over a $3000 child support bill is pretty pathetic.

    Having been through the divorce mill myself, and not having gotten bitten that badly by it, I would offer the following advice to men who find themselves facing a situation like this one. My own situation did not involve any physical domestic violence on either of our parts (well she did slap me around a few times, but that doesn't amount to anything legally) or police, but there were many tense moments (as there are in most divorces) and divorce is always going to be ugly and anger-inducing.

    The most important thing to do is to realize that you will be angry, but that even if your anger is justified, you must use every ounce of energy you have in your body to NOT express that anger, verbally or otherwise to: your wife, your kids, any therapists, your lawyer, her lawyer, any mediator, any judge, and any court-appointed experts. You must NOT express ANY anger in any of these situations. You are frankly better off to not even admitting to being angry, even if you keep your cool and do not express it. Male anger — even the mention of it — is greatly feared by all the players involved, because some angry men unfortunately will act out on it and hurt their soon to be ex wives and/or kids. So even in your non-DV situation, if you express anger, or even admit to being angry, you are running a great risk of being lumped in with the real wife beater crowd.

  7. knightblaster says:

    You *will* be angry, of course. Everyone getting divorced is, at least in part. Do what you need to do to blow off and deal with your anger — go for a run, hit the gym, play the guitar until your fingers bleed, and so on. But do not: discuss it with your therapist, discuss it with your friends, write about it in a journal or anything else that a court can get its hands on, express it in any setting when anyone else, even a family member, is present, as any of these people can also be made to testify against you in court. While it is generally healthy to express your feelings rather than not, this is one of those situations where this just does not hold, because expressing your feelings of anger to anyone puts you at grave legal risk of any number of extremely adverse situations being pressed on you by the courts.

    In my own case, I was lucky enough to have my lawyer explain this to me at the first meeting, and it was the best advice I ever got about the whole situation. You will be angry, but you must NOT express that anger at any time prior to the divorce being finalized, and even thereafter you ought not ever express it to your ex-wife (and it goes without saying not to the kids, of course). A few years down the road, after the smoke has cleared and the relationship with the ex is stable and on a different foundation, you can write about your anger at what happened if it will make you feel better and perhaps discuss it with friends. But do not do that when you are in the midst of it — it's a huge risk.

    Also a final thought: if at all possible, resolve your divorce through a settlement that the court simply approves. The way to do this is to get lawyers who are experienced with the local family court's practices, and have them help craft a settlement that the court will accept with only minor changes. The reason for that is that as a man, in family court, you're generally going to lose. It isn't fair, but it is reality. Some guys do end up winning, but in most of those cases the wife is such an obvious basket case (my lawyer described it as the wife showing up in court both smoking a crack pipe *and* beating her kids in front of the judge at the same time) that these situations are of no help to you. Courts in many places in the US are more open to joint custody now if the mother agrees to it — which emphasizes, again, the need to do something with the anger, because no wife is going to agree to j/c with an angry ex, and even if she will, most courts won't award it. And if she doesn't agree to j/c, then try to get the best settlement you can agree on rather than trying to fight about custody before the judge — it's expensive and you're overwhelmingly likely to lose.

    Keep your cool, and keep your cards close to your chest until the storm passes — that's the key in these situations.

  8. Athol Kay says:

    Knightblaster – not expressing anger during the proceedings is most excellent advice.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Reason #87629 not to invite The Man into your life.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I agree with everything but number 10. More statism is not the solution to an overbearing state. Such a system could be, and most surely would be, arbitarily enforced and heavily abused.

    - Jay

  11. Athol, by covering this story on your blog and giving us the link to Tom Ball's letter, my respect for you has gone up a notch. Thanks.

  12. Anonymous says:

    So yeah, I fail to see how the kid, who has not burned to death, is in any way worse off than the guy who did. At this point, noting the sex of the two people who seem to believe the kid is worse off, I can only chalk up the irrationality of such a statement to their sex.

    Agreed, that the slapping + cut lip seems excessive, but not excessive enough to merit the whole denouement that happened, so yeah, would be interesting to have more information on any extended history of violence within that family, if such a history indeed exists.

    I also want to stress that the self immolation without taking anyone else with him is maybe the most unlikely sequence of events I could have imagined.

    I'm currently single, no kids, never divorced, but have to say, that should any situation push me to the point of self-immolation, I can't imagine that being the option I'd pick over attempting to kill some of the other actors in the case, be it judge, social workers, ex-wife, etc. That's the part I find truly remarkable about this.

  13. Athol Kay says:

    Eddie – MMSL is "The Cosby Show". I can do a serious episode once in a while, but those need to be mixed in with the other stuff or the message will have no audience.

  14. Anonymous says:

    The State is NEVER the answer. Unless of course you are defending national borders and/or raising an army. Since "family courts" aren't proper courts (rules of evidence, presumption of innocence), they are monstrosities that need to be demolished.

    We need to separate Marriage – the act before community and/or religious context, and the business aspects of property, obligations, etc that the government gets involved in.

    If young men had the option of negotiating the business aspects of a relationship (ala pre-nup) up front, less would get raped by the system.

    Many choose the other option – no marriage and they actively manage their own birth control. Having to actively be on guard with every female that are you are involved with must be draining and inhibit real intimacy.

    Married 28 years, I am glad that I have no sons in this mis-begotten season of humanity. Looking back over 2000 years, nations bring their own end when they dis-incentivize the creation and nurturing of families.

  15. David Casson says:

    There are two levels to the discussion: how a wise man handles marriage and parenting in light of Marriage 2.0 (the purpose of Athol's blog) and the fact that the system is completely and totally effed up. Both deserve mention. Also worthy of mention: men and women today have absolutely no idea what a hungry wolf awaits fathers in the family court system.

    Thomas Ball was unwise in the way he chose to discipline his daughter, and yes, he was excessive. In no way, however, did he deserve anything that subsequently befell him. In striving to teach men how to protect themselves and their families from the monstrosity that is our family court system, let's not make the mistake of actually justifying that system.

  16. David Casson says:

    Also, I think some here are blowing the girl's cut lip way out of proportion and slipping Ball into the undeserved category of Kid Beater, First Class. Was slapping the girl over the top? Yes. Wrong? Yes. Unskillful parenting? Yes. Scary in the moment for the girl and the wife? Certainly. A big deal in the long run? Not by a mile – provided, of course, that he would stop doing it, otherwise the damage would be long-term.

    I come from a violent family background. My mother was very aggressive with me physically and emotionally during the first 16 years of my life, one day going so far as to completely wreck my bedroom because I wouldn't go to bed at 9 pm as she instructed. And even she was far from the worst that is out there. She just had a terrible temper. A story about a little girl getting slapped once is quaint by comparison, as my stories are alongside those of little boys whose mothers burn them with hot irons or girls whose father molest them.

    Again, the system is completely insane.

  17. David Casson says:

    PS Athol get on WordPress will you? I want a comment system that lets me subscribe!! :-)

  18. Athol Kay says:

    For those saying Big Brother / The State is not the answer…

    The state is already utterly invasive and any rights you presume you have are granted by the state in the first place. True rights and privacy are illusionary, you have none. The state has always had the ability to enter your home, seize your assets, your children and your spouse, slaughter you on the spot or send you to war as cannon fodder. The only issue is the convenience and cost of doing so to the state. Welcome to The Matrix.

    My suggestion is to alter the way the state acts to provide greater convenience and reduced cost to the state. Intact families and happier men being a means to that end.

  19. Athol: "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."
    Athol: "My suggestion is to alter the way the state acts to provide greater convenience and reduced cost to the state. Intact families and happier men being a means to that end. "

    The problem in my opinion is mandatory reporting. I am all for child protection against malicious parents but as someone who was a former mandatory reporter (camp counselor) when you learn about the responsibilities of the mandatory reporter it is almost scary. I could file a report on a camper's parents without fear of retribution… regardless of the truth of the statement. I could have taken any shy camper who was too eager to leave his parents, or seemed akward, and filed a report, and someone would HAVE to have intervened.

    The state is not the answer. I will not blindly say, as you do, "True rights and privacy are illusionary, you have none." I do have rights and I will defend them to the death. In a sense that is precisely what this gentleman did.

  20. Looking Glass says:

    @ Athol: love the Cosby Show reference. One of the best TV shows of all time.

  21. Anonymous says:

    "The state is already utterly invasive and any rights you presume you have are granted by the state in the first place. True rights and privacy are illusionary, you have none. The state has always had the ability to …"

    Ouch. You just lost it for me. The state may have the 'ability' to encroach upon natural rights, and in most cases it certainly does, but that does not invalidate said rights.

    As for the slapping incident in question, if that is the case, then most women are also guilty of child abuse. (What kid hasn't been spanked/slapped around a bit by their mom when they misbehaved or when mom was a little tired/hormonal?) The only difference is that in this case the 'perp' was a guy, and the system discriminates against guys thank you very much women's rights movement aka we hate men and are going to persecute them as we feel like it.

    I would not have done what the guy did, but I can understand it.

  22. Jack Amok says:

    Have to agree with the folks saying you're wrong about the State. Totally wrong with the original suggestion for licensing, and extra wrong with the double-down in the 3:14 pm comment.

    What government run set of suggestions works? Over at Deansdale (see link at left) there's a post about a list of diets ranked by "professionals." Deano notes that the professionals rated the Atkins and Paleo diets as horrible, but there's an open voting system and those two diets get the most favorable rating from actual people. Kenoi Galt has an excellent post about how the dietary advice coming from our government is likely responsible for increased obesity. Glen Reynolds has one indicated it might be responsible for non-alcoholic liver disease.

    When we were expecting our first kid, my wife and I took a childbirth class sponsered by the county. Utter crap. New-agey baloney. Told us to go take a walk when the contractions first hit. If we'd done that, I'd have delivered my son on the side of the road. Then after he was born and we had him home, if we'd listened to the lactation consultants another week they'd have probably had us starve him to death.

    Government run child-raising education would be no better.

    Yes, government is way too intrusive. We don't have anywhere near the privacy or security we think we do. Or deserve. Are entitled to.

    The solution isn't to try and tame Leviathan. The solution is to kill it and replace it with a smaller, less threatening version. The great news is that we have the power to do that without killing a bunch of people. A good start would be cutting the amount of regulation in half, not doubling it.

  23. Codeazure says:

    Very sad story. This is the sort of thing I would expect to see from the angry men at Spearhead, as this is one of their major themes.

    But you have covered it in a more sensitive way, that doesn't just lash out, but tries to look at this situation from everyone's point of view.

    It is a tragedy for everyone involved.

    I agree with the comment on keeping anger under a leash during the divorce process. Just stepping very carefully and causing no ripples seems to be the best way for any man to survive a process that will crush him otherwise.

    Once it's all over, you can relax, go and do what you want and enjoy life :-)

  24. Viliam Búr says:

    appeal must be made to the interests of the state and to the safety of women if anything can be affected for the men

    So true.

    On another web page, I have seen a discussion about false rape claims. A few women said false rape accusations are bad because if people know about them, they will be less likely to believe women. They did not seem to care that a false accusation can bring innocent man to jail, or make him lose his children… only that it can influence public opinion towards women.

    A feminist does not care if a man is hurt. In their minds, men deserve all the bad things that happen to them. Only important thing is what happens to women. And today, many women are latent feminists. If you want to make them care, you have to explain how something may hurt women. Otherwise… they don't care. And they make the public opinion, which means they make the laws.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Athol, unless you have experienced something you haven't related or I missed, you have no clue what you are talking about when it comes to the The STATE raping the man and his family in the first person. I hope that you never do.

    A long time ago in a place far, far away my wife and I were falsely accused, and although no charges were placed by the police, the child-nazis kept harassing us and started stalking our children trying to get them alone and "interview" them. It came down to either confrontation or escape.

    It was a hard choice, but we disappeared. It eventually cost us our home, and most of our 'wealth', but our family stayed together and our children are now adults without ever being in the system's clutches. A hard choice that many wives wouldn't have been willing to support, but I/we have no regrets.

    The STATE assumes that you will hold still and assume the position, the alternative is escape and evade, but the price is high. Like they say in NH, Live Free or Die.

  26. Keep in mind, folks, there is no such thing as honesty without anonymity.

    This blog is a public record of what Athol thinks. Should he ever get caught up in the court system (I hope not, but he knows it's a possibility), he can't be on record as being an angry dissenter. You should view his first comment on this thread as a sort of meta comment. He would probably like to say more, but can't.

  27. Just because the State has the power to deny you the exercise of them, doesn't mean you don't have rights. Your rights are yours by virtue of existence. Nobody but you has the authority to separate you from them. Power != authority. More state intervention is a the absolute worst possible solution to almost any problem you can imagine.

  28. I've read up a little bit more on this, including the petition she/her lawyer made to claim money (which was 50% of medical expenses for the kids, the paperwork mentioned accompanying receipts), I'm not sure how him going to gaol would have helped (unless he had income from something like a an army pension I suppose), asking for it seems a waste of time and money to me.

    But it is very scary how much control the state can have on people's lives.

  29. Athol

    Normally you are fairly accurate in your assesments. In this case you are quite a bit
    wide of the mark. You have never ever dealt
    directly with the family court system. You have
    no clue as to how evil, self absorbed and power mad the system is. The system is designed to grow and flourish. To do that it needs resources… the resources of a working man. The only way to get those is to demonize men,
    destroy them and enslave them.
    It's all about power, money, privilege and control. The women are pawns, the children are
    victims and the men are the prey.

    No man can truly understand how horrible and evil the family court system is in america till
    he has been victimized by it.

  30. Anonymous says:

    The things I don't get about the slapping:

    1. He was found innocent of the charges of abuse. If there was a pattern of abuse he probably would have been sent to jail.

    2. Most women who live with abusive men keep going back to them. His wife started divorce procedures 3 days after he was removed from the home. This makes it more likely that it was a one time event as most women who permanently leave after domestic violence towards their kids or themselves happen after the father looses it one time. One timers = beta looser and repeat abusers = alpha's.

    So why the hell does everyone assume this was anything more than one event? My dad kicked me hard in the stomach one day when I wouldn't move out of the way when he was doing something. Only time he ever hit me in anger.

  31. Anonymous says:

    "There are other effective parenting skills that could have been brought to bear on the situation."

    What pompous drivel, maybe he had a bad day at work or something, maybe he had a bad temper, but it's hardly a big deal. The wife calling "mental health" workers made it a huge problem, since "mental health" workers are similar on some levels to police, in that they are agents of state coercion and it's only going to go downhill from there, as it did.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Seriously you've lost a lot of respect with this, again, pompous busy bodying post, I find it just about offensive.

  33. ironchefoklahoma says:


    Thank you for pointing that out. I don't always agree with MMSL but Athol has put his name and reputation behind his thoughts.

    I'm headed for Amazon right now…

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