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Did we fail to help dad shoulder his burden?

SHARE Did we fail to help dad shoulder his burden?

We were on vacation in Jackson, Wyo., last Wednesday morning, having breakfast at Bubba's, when my wife came across a two-paragraph wire-service article in the local newspaper about Paul Wayment being sentenced to 30 days in jail.

What could possibly be accomplished by that? we wondered.

About 12 hours later, while driving and listening to the radio on Highway 20 just south of Yellowstone, we found out.

Paul Wayment had committed suicide.

From all accounts, Paul Wayment was easy to spot in a crowd these past nine months. He was the one carrying the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders.

Ever since the October day last fall when he left his 28-month-old son Gage in the pickup while he went to scout for deer in the forest above Coalville he had fitted himself with the worst kind of ankle restraint — the kind that never comes off. The kind that never stops hurting.

Why did he leave a child so young all alone in the woods? What was he thinking? Why didn't he protect his boy from wandering off to get lost and die? From Wayment's statements on the court record it was obvious these types of questions and more were playing around-the-clock in his head, heart and soul.

And he wasn't the only one asking them.

First The Father Who Left His Son was tried in the media — with few kind words spared in his direction. His past and present, with all its human imperfections, came out into the unfiltered open. His irresponsibility took on the kind of dimension only possible when blown to prime time proportion. He became the personification of every parent's worst fear. He became a household name.

If that wasn't enough, he was then tried by the courts — literally charged by our justice system as a criminal for what he had done, or not done, and given 30 days in jail by a judge who apparently thought that would deter Wayment, and the rest of us, from leaving our kids alone in the forest.

Did Paul Wayment look at the 30 days and decide it might as well be death? Was it the final indignity? The finish-off blow from a finger-pointing world?

Who can say for certain? Who can even guess at the tugs and pulls and second-guessings going on within a man who, it's now safe to say, would trade anything to relive that fateful day last October?

What we can say with absolute certainty is that Paul Wayment didn't want to live any longer after he walked out of Judge Robert Hilder's courtroom. He went straight to the woods where the nightmare began abruptly nine months ago and ended it just as abruptly.

In that way an eye-for-an-eye circle of justice was eerily completed.

As a father, Paul Wayment was supposed to look out for his son Gage, and he let him slip away in the woods above Coalville.

In the aftermath of that tragedy, as a society we were supposed to look out for Paul. While taking care to wear a stern face that said we shouldn't and couldn't condone parental neglect, it was still our responsibility to offer him sympathy, encouragement, hope and ample reasons for living.

And we let him slip away in the woods above Coalville.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.