In the aftermath of my Mom’s second divorce in September ’89, she would sometimes engage me in conversations about manhood and fatherhood. It was as if she didn’t think of me as a man in really any sense at all. This despite years of handling adult responsibilities and running interference between her and my now ex-stepfather Maurice.
One Christmas holiday day in ’90, we were sitting in the living room at 616 watching a rerun of The Cosby Show on NBC, then the most popular show on the most popular network in the US. My Mom asked me, “If you could pick your father, you’d want it to be Cosby, right?” I stared blankly at my Mom, wondering where the heck that question came from. I didn’t say anything. But my Mom took that as me thinking, “Yeah, he would’ve been a great father for you.”
At the time, I certainly thought that Bill Cosby would’ve been an entertaining father, if I’d been lucky enough to have a near-billionaire as my dad. What I really wanted was my father, Jimme Collins, to get himself sober, to be lucid enough to talk to now that I was in my twenties. Beyond this, I didn’t give Cosby or my Mom’s question and comments much thought.
Over the years, I’ve watched TV dads come and go, frequently with some tragedy or controversy. Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch (1969-74) fame comes to mind, with his in-the-closet status and his early death from colon cancer and HIV complications. So too does Conrad Bain, because of the backlash Diff’rent Strokes (1978-86) received as a result of its dated way of treating issues such as race and poverty with his character Phillip Drummond as the father to two Black kids, not because of his personal life. But Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable, an obstetrician and gynecologist (talk about irony) and father of four daughters and one son, became for many “America’s Dad,” a title that the media has celebrated recently in the wake of The Cosby Show‘s thirtieth anniversary of its first airing earlier this fall. He was supposed to be above reproach.
I’ve long been disappointed with Cosby, though. For his culture-of-poverty arguments against welfare mothers, crack babies and pregnant teenagers. For his frequent need to chastise Blacks living in poverty for not knowing “proper moral behavior” (this from a person who purportedly holds a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts). Not to mention his double-standard on monogamy.
Now even the oblivious set has become aware of the growing number of accusations from women who’ve said that Cosby had allegedly committed rape and other forms of sexual assault going back at least thirty-two years. I’ve been aware of these accusations and rumors for nearly twenty years, in the wake of Cosby’s son Ennis’ death in ’97. I hoped that these accusations were false ones at first. Who would want to believe that “America’s Dad,” the Jell-O Pudding and Pudding Pop Man, was also drugging and raping women in his spare time?
I think what we need to recognize the most, maybe even more than systemic racism or our culture of imperialism and violence, is that this society of ours is somewhere between an oligarchy and a plutocracy. Bill Cosby’s stance on race, community and morals has only mattered because of his fame and fortune, not because of his expertise and certainly not because of his professional experience. Bill Cosby’s a comedian, an actor, a philanthropist and a philanderer, and perhaps a rapist as well. Americans all too frequently fall for the facade of father figures and others whom seem to say what we want to hear. When all those with power and money really want to do is to wield that power and money to their own capricious and narcissistic ends.