I have been frustrated with the portrayal of TV fathers for some time. So leave it to Bill Cosby, the holder of the lead role in a family comedy I had once despised, to voice the same concerns I’ve been grumbling about for years.
And leave it to me to think of this the day after Father’s Day. Oh well.
Cosby was Heathcliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, the mainly light-hearted (and in many ways a bit unbelievable) show that led ratings for years when I was a teenager and young adult. Whether it was my youth, watching the interactions my friends had with their fathers or the rapid development of a warped sense of reality, I grew from enjoying the Cosby Show to disparaging it. None of my friends had the nuclear family the show displayed, none of them certainly had the high-dollar family portrayed on the show and none of them enjoyed the mostly playful sibling relationships that were a show hallmark.
Besides, as I grew older, the humor was far too tame for my blood. Turn off Cosby Show. Turn on “Married…With Children.”
As my life goals turned from not wanting any sort of family in high school to wanting children to actually having a family, my perceptions on TV fatherhood changed royally. And this is where Cosby comes in.
For years, Cosby has been harping on parents, especially dads, to take their responsibilities seriously. In a recent interview with ABC News, he said his show was designed to give an example of life with a father who cared and was effectively active in his children’s young lives.
“I based the series on two important things: Number one … I hated those series where the children were brighter than the parents, and those parents had to play dumb,” Cosby said. “Number two was that I wanted to ‘take the house back.”
If you watch TV today, dads are either inherently stupid or they are smartasses…if they are even in the picture. From Modern Family to Last Man Standing…
…to shows my daughter watches like Disney Channel’s “Dog With A Blog”…
…dads are nothing more than stage-prop stooges. And don’t get me started on Nickelodeon’s “Fairly Oddparents.”
At least these dads are featured, right? Look at shows like Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” or Disney’s “Jessie,” where the dads are/were mentioned maybe once or twice a season — and possibly show up every other season or so. And once they do, guess what: stooge central.
Kids need to be entertained as much as adults do. Maybe more so. I get that. And men, especially fathers, provide an easy target. Put us in our element (work, usually) and we can make things hum along like nobody’s business. Take us out of that setting and plop us at home, and…hoo boy. Just ask my wife how well we do.
But prodding and making fun and keeping the kid tickled “at the expense of parenting, at the expense of keeping children out of harm’s way to get these laughs, to make these parents look stupid, to make kids look like they are ultra-bright but still lost, then we have a problem,” according to Cosby.
“[We] parents make it difficult,” he said, “because we want to be well-liked. And I’m not saying that parenting, you shouldn’t want to be well-liked, but you also have to have some kind of judgment.”
Hey Hey Hey to that.
There are the idiot dads out there. I’ve been one…well, I guess I am one every day. There are also those of us dads who care deeply about our responsibilities to our children and do our damndest to fulfill them with a relative minimum of stupidity (this is where I would put my father). It’s too bad Hollywood thinks it best to give our children the complete opposite viewpoint, that dads are nothing more than progeny-befriending buffoons designed only to get laughs and ridicule.
I don’t watch The Cosby Show reruns when they are on. But I have a whole new respect for what Cosby was trying to convey during his show.