Benefits of a Bastard

Harry Drabik

Bacchus with leopard (1878) by Johann Wilhelm Schutz
Bacchus with leopard (1878) by Johann Wilhelm Schutz

On first learning the facts I’ll admit I was somewhat shaken. I could handle the illegitimacy issue well enough. The difficulty or trick was in reassessing basic categories of relationship many of us need never question. Dad or mom can be particular individuals in a larger biologic familial group. But those roles can also be done by surrogates, donors, unknowns, or adoptive parent, etc. The particulars of egg fertilization are probably not as behaviorally important to the growing child as the nature of the people and relationships a young person lives and deals with as they develop. Human terms for motherhood and mom do not describe an ongoing relationship with a test tube or surrogate paid for nine months labor. As an adult faced with bastardhood the first difficulty was having previously secure assumptions and categories suddenly expand. The nature and number of parents changed; mutating from parents to birth parent and adoptive. At first it seems a slight thing, but when a fundamental category such as uncle takes on new levels of association and includes people you can’t name the experience is, if nothing else, tiring. Even if we don’t think about them, human associations require active energy to maintain. As example consider the effort and energy some expend simply avoiding a relative they dislike. Relationships are fueled by effort.  

But once I got beyond the first level of sorting relationships and categories I found a layer of unexpected opportunity. Couldn’t change the facts of being a bastard, but I didn’t have to feel bad about it or not see the broader perspective it allowed. On a social familial field I became a free agent with modified allegiances. Damn, I kind of liked that! I was more receptive to the contributions made by other bastards. Being out of synch with propriety has given many a bastard the psychological boost to outdo, “I’ll show them!” Shaka Zulu fits the model as does Elizabeth I who was declared a bastard by Tudor rivals and who later showed her colors by becoming the Virgin Queen who set lineage aside. Is that a bastardly position or not?  

At times when people have become upset with me and questioned my basis I’m able to say in truth and confidence. “Hey, I’m a bastard and I can prove it. So what? What else have you got to support your side?” Argument as or from a bastard position is effective. If you’re in a difficult debate who do you want giving ideas to you? In a combative exchange (a great deal of human exchange is adversarial – ask your partner) will your points get attention if garbed in cherubic pleasantry or if they blast like a 12 gauge set off in a trailer home? A bastard position does not (according to the rules some wish to impose) automatically surrender to nice. And think now, how often in your life has someone urging for “nice” wanted a surrender in order to avoid the problem of difficult questions. Sometimes, maybe many times, nice is a bastard in disguise. At least, and I think this is important, a bastard’s argument can be the most honest by being upfront instead of telling you its giving to you things it intends to take from you. If you’ll tolerate a twist on a Mark Twain line, “Being a bastard provides consolation denied the children of ordinary relations.”  

In line with appreciating the positive powers of being a legitimate bastard (who could have seen that one a coming) is the reverse benefit of not being overly swayed by convention. Free agency is at a price. But you know, that’s fine. I could even say it’s beneficial to all if recognition of new rules or boundaries is open and clear. This is something each case of bastardness has to handle on its own terms. Example: once in a while I’ll perform some decent or cooperative act cringing all the while not at being thanked but at the repercussions. You know how it works. As word gets out you’ve done helpful things who’s going to be asked to do more? In any group it’s usually less than 10% who do 90% of the work. If you’re in the known active 10% it’s as if you are the candy dropped alongside an ant hill. If not swarmed you’ll be continually importuned to do this or that, contribute to one cause or another, and so on. There are solicitation services based on going after donors. If you gave to the Daisy Chain Commitment you become an object of desire to the Save Our Earthworms Association. You may know an elderly widow who has been the target because she finds it difficult to say no and appear uncaring. It’s easier if you don’t care to begin with and are therefore able to judiciously contribute where and how suits you. Then, after you have chipped in the wise bastard move is to keep it quiet. As I’m prone to urge groups I’ve given to “Don’t put me on your Thank You list. You do that and people start to expect things. I can’t live up to those expectations. Its better they die quickly and save us unnecessary grief and disappointment.”  

I’m not against disappointing my fellow beings. You can survey any number of past dates and associations. They will assure you with eager speed that when it comes to being disappointing I am fully up to the job. But, being a disappointment is not the same as being free to disappoint. The distinction might appear slight but is quite real and substantial. A question in my mind remains unplumbed because it will bother my spirit if the facts found me disappointing as a bastard. That would hurt. Shaka Zulu knew early in life he was an unclaimed asset. I think that would act as a considerable spur. So if I disappoint I can point to a later in life revelation. That helps, plus I’m able to point at Dionysus as my distant guide. Can’t get much further afield than Dionysus.