Another Perspective

Bastard

Tom Brady has one. Halle Berry wants more than one. Society shrugs.

By 10.3.07

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At my regular weekly luncheon the major if not only topic among the men attending is sports.

The miasmic Mets, the umpire's home plate call, the prowess of the Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, stuff like that. Imagine my surprise when I asked, "Doesn't Brady have a bastard child with some woman in Hollywood?" Uproar. Not because of a slur against the noble thrower, but because of the use of the term, "bastard." Several attendees averred they had not heard that word in their adult lifetime. All seemed upset at its application to a child born out of wedlock. It had struck nerves I don't even want to know about. It was instructive beyond intent.

So was it a surprise that on Tuesday, Oprah celebrated the pregnancy, nay, headlined the pregnancy, of Halle Berry, the comely actress who, after two marriages, is now expecting a child by a Canadian model with whom she is smitten. Ms. Berry went on to detail the uncompromising efforts the pair had made to achieve pregnancy, revealing she was most receptive while watching the Maury Povich show which is devoted in the main to trying to identify for female guests the biological father of their children, oft times a mathematical challenge.

Oprah Winfrey herself broached the subject of marriage to Ms. Berry, who promptly dismissed all such talk. She and her companion, she explained, were dismissive of a "piece of paper," had no intention of wedlock and planned to have several more children after the one pending. It was a celebration of her impending delivery which Oprah led her audience in applauding. I began to understand the consternation I'd produced at the previous luncheon, the nerve nearly touched.

In common law, bastardy could be legitimized only when parents were married before the birth. In most states now it doesn't really matter any more than it does to Oprah or Halle. In fact, marital status has been abolished as a matter of style in journals such as the Washington Post. Where a "widowed mother of three" might have one day died in car wreck, she has now morphed into a "single parent." A recent obit for a prominent woman named her "longtime companion" among the survivors. "Single parents" thrive in the Post's pages as indeed they do in the hometown of the newspaper.

Those with long memories may recall that marriage was a sacrament of an old religion, the one headquartered in a little enclave in Rome, Italy. That was in the time when a hotel night clerk might even ask for a couple's marriage license.

Is there a point to be made? Bill Cosby thinks so. He has been reviled for his campaign seeking responsibility in parenthood among African Americans, specifically responsibility among the males impregnating young women or girls and leaving them or their mothers to raise the result. The complete failure of this matriarchy is best expressed by the murder rate among young males in the Capitol city where the illegitimacy rate is something more than 70 percent. The mayor and police chief's latest attempt to deal with a dozen shootings per weekend is to put more policemen walking the streets. A meteoric shower of publicly dispensed condoms has had no discernible effect.

What young girl, or boy, watching the Oprah-Berry celebration of uncelibacy could fail to appreciate the lesson, the sustained applause, the complete approbation of the hostess, the unreserved joy of the audience?

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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.