When I was growing up in the ’80s, Thursday night was the highlight of the entire week. My school had Thursday night learning or “Mishmar” every week. As soon as Mishmar was over, the herd of fourth-grade boys would hightail to the waiting carpools so that we could get home in time for The Cosby Show. Besides being a really funny program, this was the one show that almost every parent allowed their kids to watch. Through humor, the show shared valuable life lessons, and featured a role model that we could all admire. This was the ’80s….
This past week, a part of my childhood came crashing down, when Bill Cosby was convicted of horrific crimes. How could this man who brought so much joy and who dedicated much of his life to education have been so evil? How could the world have been so blind to what was really going on? I do not pretend to have the answers to these questions, and I think many from my generation are facing the same thoughts. As sad as this is, Cosby is only the latest example of mistrust and deception. We have been there many times before, but for some reason, this one stings just a bit more than other disgraced role models. Maybe this is because of how much we all identified with the Huxtable family, or maybe it is because a few years ago, we would never have believed that these events could be true.
About 12 years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Bill Cosby. He was the featured entertainer at my school’s yearly benefit concert. The school had so many ticket requests from families who wanted to see Cosby perform, that they had to set up a live simulcast in a different room. Even though tickets were not cheap, parents wanted their children to have this special opportunity to see Bill Cosby perform. I was one of the photographers assigned to cover the event, so I had to arrive early to take pictures with Cosby and the honorees. I must say that my interactions with him were quite pleasant. He was courteous, polite, and allowed my partner and me to take as many photos as we needed. He even wore a big kippa as the event took place in a synagogue. Of course, no one knew then what we know now. As time went on and the rumors started to circulate, we all wanted it to be a lie. This was a man that we all came to think of as a part of our own families. We could all picture Cliff Huxtable in our kitchens and at our dinner tables. As more and more accusers came forward, it became more difficult to look the other way.
Adults can have a profound impact on children around them.
Celebrities such as Bill Cosby had a connection to more children than most. He built himself an image as the “family entertainer.” Parents copied his parenting styles, and children looked to his actions and lessons for guidance as well. For all of the good that Cosby did, he let down the millions of people like me who looked at him as an inspiration. My wife and I have discussed several times whether we can show our own children select episodes of The Cosby Show, There are some that have such amazing lessons for children and families. We even find ourselves quoting episodes sometimes without even realizing. At the end of the day though, how can we only take the good and just ignore the evil? As much as we would like to, it is not possible.
There have been so many examples of high profile people who continue to let down those who trusted them. Whether they be religious figures, athletes, or Hollywood elite, the trust has been broken too many times. Most of the parents I know are in fact not famous. I look at this as a good thing for a variety of reasons. Even without the fame however, our example is what will influence future generations. This is not just true for immediate family members, but also extends to those in our global and media outlets. Bill Cosby was an example of hard work paying off. He was an example of how even with challenges there were opportunities for all. Now though, despite the good, he is an example of a man who committed terrible acts and who disrespected women for decades. Unfortunately, for all of us it is impossible to separate the two sides. Despite the good actions, Cosby is now a bad person. So, after much thought, no, my children will not be watching The Cosby Show, even though the lessons in these classic episodes are valuable. I hope that the role models of today’s generation are paying attention and realize that the influence they have on kids goes way beyond the TV screen or the basketball court.