Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death in Saigon in June, 1963 to protest anti-Buddhist persecution.
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 Wednesday. He sat down, doused himself with gasoline, and lit a match. Ball was a Vietnam veteran and apparently his act of protest was modeled on the famous “Burning Buddhist” protests against the U.S.-backed Ngo Dinh Diem government of South Vietnam in the 1960s. The buddhists were protesting the discrimination and mistreatment they suffered at the hands of Diem’s pro-Catholic regime. Ball was protesting the discrimination he, his children, and many other fathers and children have endured from the New Hampshire family courts. Ball left a lengthy narrative of his experiences with the court that detailed how he lost his children. He concluded:
I have three things to say to my children. First, Daddy loves you. Second, you are my three most favorite people in the world. And last, that you are to stick together no matter how old you get or how far apart you live. Because it is like Grandma always said. The only thing you really have in this world is your family.
But his story was much more than that. It revealed a deeply troubled individual who nevertheless understood clearly the workings of family courts – their routinely anti-father decisions and the role that money plays in propping up a status quo that is morally bankrupt, scientifically shoddy and misandric. Ball understood all too well the price paid by fathers and their children to keep a system functioning that, by no definition of the word adequately performs the task society gives it. 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. I sympathize with him; I feel for his loss. I will never condone exhortations to violence. There are ways to accomplish the goals of the family court reform movement. Those ways include the ballot box, lobbying state and national legislatures, media attention, and legal defense work. Whoever reads the words of Thomas Ball will feel what he felt and empathize with his pain, anger and frustration. No one should take to heart the violent methods he recommends. And however distant Ball may have felt from his children, however hard it may have been for him to speak to them, touch them, hold them, he is forever lost to them now. His deed is done and there is no undoing it. We can only hope that it will serve the purpose Ball intended – to draw attention to the countless children who go to bed fatherless every night, not because their fathers don’t care, but because their caring is devalued by family courts.