As difficult as it may be for others to comprehend the act, and while I wish he did not do it, I can understand why Thomas Ball doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. There was no escape. Nobody cared. This was the ultimate call for attention, a scream into the universe for all the world to hear about the plight of fathers. A father of three, Ball correctly noted that "we are no longer fathers, just piggy banks."
Ball was faced yet again with jail for a child support amount he could not pay. He wrote in his last statement, "I could have made a phone call or two and borrowed the money. But I am done being bullied for being a man."
When you engage in criminal enterprises, you expects jail to possibly be a part of your life. But nobody expects that a hard-working stiff or a man who has served 21 years in the armed forces would be treated like a criminal and jailed for being poor and a father.
Find a poor mother and she is the elevated "single mother," and society scrambles to give her Section 8 housing, free attorneys and welfare benefits. Nonprofits for her benefit abound.
Find a poor father and he is a "deadbeat dad." The Supreme Court said in a recent case, "Seventy percent of child support arrears nationwide are owed by parents with either no reported income or income of $10,000 per year or less." It makes you just want to kill yourself.
The Ball story and the media reaction do not surprise me. Google his name - Thomas Ball is not even remotely a national news story. The story appeared briefly on the radar screen of the Boston Globe and a few New Hampshire newspapers. There was no media circus, no throngs of reporters trying to hunt down fathers' rights activist for a quote, or examining court documents for some insider information. Wikipedia, a source that will publish just about anything on anybody, took Ball's webpage down because Ball or his self-immolation was not noteworthy enough. (Don't worry, you can still read about the drummer for Pearl Jam or a listing of leading porn stars.)
Ball should have filmed his self-immolation so that it could have been played over and over again by CNN and the Fox News Channel.
On the other hand, had they covered the story, it probably would have been with "experts" in domestic violence or mental health, with no experts on what Ball called "the war on men" or fathers' rights activists. It's a story nobody wants to hear because men are its victims and that doesn't fit the script of women victimhood.
Every day in America, thousands of men are thrown out of their homes with the flimsiest amounts of evidence against them, their children are taken from them by a highly biased court system, and child support awards bear almost no resemblance to the actual incremental cost of having a child or the father's ability to pay.
Through unilateral no-fault divorce, a mother can simply dump her husband, without a showing of marital fault and take his children and money. Mandatory arrest procedures were developed, even though most domestic violence incidents involve mutual combat.
In a short column, I could never do the entire subject matter of fathers' rights remote justice. A column could be written on the single subject that the federal government literally subsidizes states for every dollar of child support awarded, thereby incentivizing judges to grant sole custody and high child support awards. But the point I make is that Ball's suicide remains a mystery because the media has cast so little light on the issues that prompted it.
Paul Bowes, who spoke at length at the event, stated that since his involvement in the fathers' rights movement in 1994, he has known of four fathers who have killed themselves. How many men kill themselves because of the current family court system? Nobody knows because nobody cares.
Warren Farrell opined in his book The Father Child Reunion that such data simply are not collected because no government agency is interested in documenting the maltreatment of men or fathers. Private funding also does not exist. We are only interested in studies about how men victimize women.
In his last statement, Ball writes, "A man walks up to the main door of the Keene, N.H., county courthouse, douses himself with gasoline and lights a match. And everyone wants to know why."
I am not sure if he is correct.
(Rinaldo Del Gallo III, a lawyer, is spokesman for the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition in Massachusetts.)