When you think of Bill Cosby, you might very well think of Jell-O Pudding Pops or Fat Albert or Temple University (if you’re from Philly) or even some of the most hysterical comedy routines of the last quarter of the 20th century. I’m sure you think about The Cosby Show. That’s certainly what comes to my mind. But along with that, indeed, because of The Cosby Show, when I think of Bill Cosby, I think of love.
About a month ago, I was out to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law. Kristine mentioned that she had never watched The Cosby Show. Stewart and I immediately launched into “Oh, you HAVE to watch it” and “It’s so good!” and “It’s the best tv show that has ever been produced”. We went on to relate our favorite Cosby moments to each other across the table: the time that Denise tried to make the shirt for Theo, Bill Cosby’s explanation to Theo, using Monopoly money, of how much life costs when you’re a young person living on your own, Sondra singing mopey songs when she broke up with Elvin, the episode guest-starring Danny Kaye. We remembered so much, even though we hadn’t watched the show in more than a decade.
Well, thanks to Amazon, that has changed. I’ve been watching The Cosby Show again from the beginning, and I tell you, my heart has grown about five sizes.
Bill Cosby was not only funny, he had (has) a unique kind of integrity that I don’t see on tv so much these days. The Cosby Show was firmly about family and for families. Lots of shows on the air today are about families, but Cosby was different. The kids could have attitude, yes, but they were not consistently rotten, nor were they smarter than the parents. Cliff and Clair Huxtable were not always right, but they were always the Mom and Dad, with capital letters. The show taught values in a way that I don’t see on tv now. It wasn’t preachy, it was so, so funny. But the humor didn’t come from wild or wacky situations, it came from the little things that we have all experienced in our own families and therefore identify with.
The Cosby Show was a great show, but for me the lesson of love goes much deeper than that.
I had a rough childhood. My dad abandoned us when I was 6 and Stewart was 3. My Mom (who I always refer to with a capital M, even though it’s not grammatically correct, because she deserves it) stepped up and took care of us. One of the things that became a beloved family tradition for us was watching The Cosby Show (and Family Ties, then A Different World afterwards) together as a family. Some of the most heart-felt memories of my Mom’s laughter are from watching Bill Cosby.
Throughout my childhood, I wished that Bill Cosby was my father. He was everything that young Merry believed a father should be. He was funny and wise, hard-working and interested in the lives of his children. And not a single episode of that show went by without him hugging or kissing his kids and telling them he loved them. It was the kind of affection that I hungered for, but never got.
Watching the show again recently as an adult I have been noticing how healthy and even sexy the relationship between Cliff and Clair was too. And yet, nothing about it was portrayed inappropriately or tastelessly on tv. It’s clear as day that these two are still hot for each other after 20 years of marriage and 5 kids, but everything they do to portray that is kid-safe. More than that, it’s the kind of love and affection that kids should see between their parents.
So here I am, 30 years later. I made it through that rough, fatherless childhood. I made it through the untimely death of my Mom from breast cancer. I made it through a lot of things, and now I write about love. You wouldn’t necessarily think that a family comedian who we associate with the 1980s would be the absolute ideal of love for someone who writes what I do, but he is.
Love is not sexy times. Love is not the chase, the capture, and the submission of romance novel characters. Love is not introduction, rising action, climax, and denouement. Love incorporates all those things in a much bigger, much broader, much longer-lasting story, the story of life. I saw that story played out for 8 years of my childhood in The Cosby Show, and I’m grateful to be able to revisit it now and remember where my foundation was built.
Thanks, Bill! I owe you so much.