On "The Cosby Show," Bill Cosby played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, a loving and involved, if somewhat bumbling, husband and father. In Come on People, Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint make the fascinating claim that people who don't like Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable "don't like -- or don't know -- their own fathers."
They make this claim in the course of an important opening chapter about the estrangement of most black Americans from their fathers. I agree with them on the main point. I am still chewing on this secondary "Cosby Show" illustration.
I did like and watch the "Cosby Show" when it was on because it showed a happy, functional family. I did not like Cliff Huxtable, though, because he was so often incompetent. The family worked well because Claire Huxtable was wise and all-knowing, and corrected her husband's mistakes with the children. I have noticed the trend that there are almost no competent married fathers on television. It seems as if the current generation of television writers take it as a fixed point of TV writing that father never knows best.
Cosby and Poussaint, who both also worked on the "Cosby Show," are quite right that Cliff Huxtable was very much better than the absent father, or the inconsistent father, or the domineering father, or, worse, the baby daddy that so many families, know -- including most black families. But Dr. Huxtable is still not the wise, firm, demanding-but-responsive father that all fathers should aspire to be.
I can see why Bill Cosby would not cast himself as Father Knows Best. But it is important to bear in mind that the media images that he deplores in Come on People also limit even his best efforts to set a higher standard for family life.