A man walks up to the main door of the Keene N.H. County Courthouse….

A man slaps his four year old daughter for being playful so hard he draws blood, gets arrested for domestic violence, gets divorced for “not lifting a finger to save his marriage”, has numerous run-ins with the court system over child support, domestic violence, refusal to go to counseling and who knows what else, gets frustrated with the entire system, writes a manifesto blaming the government and feminists and advocating domestic terrorism and anarchy, and sends it to the local newspaper, then walks up to the local court house and sets himself on fire, and everyone still wants to know why.

Admittedly I have limited experience with the deadbeat dad scene, having only had one of them in my lifetime, but the trend seems clear:  there is something chemical going on here with an otherwise intelligent and well adjusted individual who, in the throes of a divorce that he himself initiated in which there were children involved, slowly manages to rationalize his selfish and destructive behavior after the divorce by blaming a secret agenda perpetrated by the ex-wife,  feminists, Jews, liberals, college educated rational people and the entire US government and then after various run ins with the law or normal society finally does himself in at the age of 58.  In my father’s case, it was cigarettes.  In Tom Ball’s case, it was gasoline and a match at the front door of the Cheshire County Courthouse.  The end result is the same: the children of that individual have to clean up the mess and move on.

In my father’s case, he was somehow able to rationalize to himself that he was being taken for a ride by his ex-wife and the entire court system by making a case for the airplane that he owned (to which all the money went) being my brother’s and my inheritance, and therefore much more worthy of being cleaned, housed and fed than we were in the moment.  He would do drive bys of our housing circumstance and get upset when my mother managed, for instance, to scrape up enough money to shore up the deck of the house (to prevent it from falling down) or to rebuild the front steps (so we could get into the house), and immediately reduce the amount of compensation he would send to her each month since she was clearly using all of that abundant cash to do something “for herself.”  He was so desperate to keep this aircraft and at the same time becoming increasingly suspicious of the courts and the whole government system which was apparently against this grand scheme of his that he stopped paying income tax, Ed and Elaine Brown style, convincing himself that it was legal to do so because the 16th amendment hadn’t been “properly ratified”.  Because he was now in hiding from the government, he could no longer fill out necessary financial forms that I or my brother needed at various times to acquire financial aid for high school or college. 

 He went from being a fairly rational Reagan voting Republican to a paranoid schizophrenic radicalized libertarian anti-tax crusader in only a few years.  His whole rhetorical style changed.  He began to believe in Roswell.  He was convinced that there was a mathematical error in the theory of relativity that only he had discovered.  He believed global climate change was a hoax.  He actually believed that the societal effort to curb smoking was some kind of liberal conspiracy, and instead of quitting joined an organization called Smoker’s Rights.  How’s that for dying by your own sword?

 He and Tom Ball clearly had the same chemical imbalance.  But what causes it?  The very Liberals, Feminists, Jews, or Government that they rail and struggle against so mightily?  Is it something in the water?  Should we blame their childhood?  Or should we blame Talk Radio and the incessant grating of Rush Limbaugh’s voice? 

 To be sure, my father had a higher functioning form of the disease and managed at various times to get himself out of the sticky situations he’d created for himself, sometimes by pure artifice (successfully convincing the Manchester Transit Authority, for instance, that a hateful and threatening letter he had sent them was actually not written in his handwriting), sometimes by legal stalling (somehow getting DWI charges dropped after a year and a half of wrangling) and sometimes by acting contrite (I’m sorry IRS.  I know I owe a million dollars, but I don’t have it.  Will ten thousand do?), and by the end of his life seemed actually to be recovering from it, holding a real live job with benefits and trying to quit smoking.  Maybe it loses its ground after a few years.  Or maybe you can recover from it if you stop listening to Talk Radio.  Or maybe it’s a secret government experiment.

 That airplane?  Well we did inherit it, in the end. And then we sold it, at less than half of its value, to pay for all the student loans we’d been forced to take out due to our father’s self-radicalization.  So I guess everyone got what they wanted in the end, but it seems to me it was a more convoluted road than it should have been.  But then, that was my father, at the height of his mysterious disease.  Always coming up with a convoluted, badly written and hard to follow rationale, full of half-scientific logic, faulty reasoning, legitimate looking but half-researched and garbled historical context,  for the problem of the moment.

 So to the wannabe self-immolators, the tax-evading radicals, the would-be domestic terrorists, the plain ol’ dead-beat dads out there:  we rational people are not out to get you, Feminists or Liberals that we might be.  Being compassionate people, though we may laugh at your faulty logic and poorly drawn conclusions in private, we are concerned for you.  Please get help.  Your children want to lead normal lives.  They don’t want to have to remember you for being a completely selfish and deluded idiot who finally imploded at the age of 58.  Trust me.   I know.

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