Balloon Boy – His Father Tempting Not Just Authorities But Fate

One of the great ironies of the story of Falcon Heene, the boy who was not found in his father’s helium balloon was that in fact the boy was caught in another kind of bubble of his dad’s, a bubble of grandiosity, delusion, deception, craziness.

As almost everyone in the U.S. now knows, Richard Heene (the father) thought he’d raise media hype to both a new high (about 11,000 feet) and, possibly, a new low.  His hope was apparently to create some kind of family “reality” tale, which, like many, was based not on reality but a perverse pursuit of drama and attention.

Heene’s sons, particularly Falcon, were caught up in this drama as compelling foils.  All kids are cute, but these boys are really cute; little Artful Dodgers, as it were, to Heene and his wife’s Fagan and Nancy.  (Unfortunately, reports of Heene’s temper and of a complaint of domestic violence also bring up worrisome hints of Bill Sykes.)

You can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for the kids, especially Falcon (maybe as much of an Oliver as an Arful Dodger), whose discomfort was enough to make him physically ill during two TV interviews, literally sick to his stomach.  Oddly, the guilt he must feel now stems largely from honesty, from openly alluding to his father’s script.

The whole story raises a lot of questions both about Heene and about the reality show culture.

But one of the questions that hits me the hardest is not how Heene could have had the chutzpah, or the incentive, to try to fool the authorities, but simply how he could have stood to tempt fate in this awful way.

Most people, certainly in the traditional world, but also today, would not even speak theoretically of possible ill befalling their children.  Many people would have difficulty actually forming words around such horrible speculations.  I am an attorney in my real life, and even when writing memos related to estate planning, I frequently use vague, pablumesque, words to describe the future mortality of a loved one:  “if something were to happen to” so-and-so, I write.  “Pre-decease” is another good, legalistic word, simply because it is both Latinate and elaborate enough to create distance from what it truly means.

“God forbid” was and continues to be the typical phrase of protection against such terrible speculation.  “God forbid,” combined, after a silent prayer, and then perhaps a  knock on the head.  (Something wooden.)

One hates to see families split up. But you can’t help but worry about those kids in their father’s bubble, whether up in the air, or firmly tethered in their own back yard.

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