Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whatever Happened to Cliff Huxtable?

When I was between the ages of about 5 and 7, one of my favorite things to do on rainy days was to ride my bicycle in circles around my father's apartment while listening to some of Dad's comedy records. While part of me can't believe Dad let me do this (although I understand anything that keeps a kid occupied and out of your hair on a weekend is a good thing), I mostly have nothing but pleasant memories of this circular pastime.

Dad owned several comedy records. It was from him that I learned my love of standup. I remember listening to George Carlin (again, I can't believe he let me do that!) and Steve Martin. But by far, my favorite comedian was Bill Cosby.

Like many an 80s kid, I saw Cosby as a kind of additional dad. His humor, his clean non-cursing curses, and his slightly patronizing demeanor were all dad-like, and my own father and I would laugh together over his descriptions of chocolate cake for breakfast and thinking his name was Jesus Christ.

But Bill Cosby wasn't just a standup. He was Fat Albert, too. And he drew the Picture Pages--the theme to which I can still sing despite not having thought about it in 25 years.

Mostly, though Bill Cosby was Cliff Huxtable. The every-father in the 80s. Rudy's dad and Elvin's father-in-law and Theo's dad and Clair's husband and Russell's son. He was part of the family I grew up with in 30-minute installments once a week. I can recall his living room more clearly than I can remember details of the apartment I once rode a bicycle around in endless circles.

I know that Cliff Huxtable is fictional.

What I now realize is that Bill Cosby is, too.

The man I thought I knew--the one who loves children and pokes fun at himself and works tirelessly to improve the image of blacks in America and tells charming stories about childbirth and sledding and exacting revenge with a snowball--he was a carefully constructed fiction. Nothing more than a mask.

Underneath that lovely every-dad visage lies a monster.


I had heard the allegations about Cosby for years.

In 1997, not long after his son Ennis was tragically murdered, a woman named Autumn Jackson extorted Cosby for money, claiming to be his daughter. She was not, although he had had an affair with Jackson's mother. 18-year-old me was non-plussed that my fictional TV dad had cheated on his beautiful wife (who I imagined as looking like Phylicia Rashad since I had never seen a picture of her.) But I was mostly disgusted with Jackson for trying to extort a great man who was in the midst of a terrible grief.

In 2005, I learned as little as I could about Andrea Constand and her allegations of rape. I didn't want to know. Plugging my ears and singing was easier than looking underneath the every-dad mask.

In 2005, I changed the channel when Tamara Green went on The Today Show and claimed that Cosby drugged her and sexually assaulted her years before I was born. I was too much of a feminist to say (even to myself) that clearly these women were just trying to bring down a titan of our times. I would never say that or even think it. But this was my TV dad they were talking about! It was easier to just let the information quietly slip out of my head.

Now it is 2014, and there is no denying the awful truth: my beloved fictional dad is a rapist.

I have read Barbara Bowman's piece for The Washington Post. I have heard Cosby's refusal to engage with questions about the allegations. I have seen the Cliff Huxtable mask fall to the floor, and I am heartbroken.


When Robin Williams committed suicide back in August, I was overwhelmed to learn of his clay feet. Learning of the devastating strength of his depression, in a man so capable of giving joy to others, was a terrible lesson for all of us. I mourned for him, even though I never knew him.



Mr. Williams' clay feet hurt no one but himself. He lived and died gently, angry at himself but loving toward others. I can remember him fondly and be thankful for his life and legacy. His memory will always be a blessing.

Bill Cosby, on the other hand, lied to me. He lied to all of us. He created a false face of gentleness. A loving and lovable image of what a perfect father should be--when underneath there is something wrong with him that allows him to believe he has the right to women's bodies.

I am so sad and so angry. Although the violation against me and all the other individuals who loved the Cliff Huxtable face is nothing compared to the violations he committed against the dozen plus women who have come forward, I still feel incredibly betrayed.

My memories are tainted now. Many of those memories include my real dad who is gone and unable to make new ones with me. And I can't apologize to the man who I might have sometimes wished was more like Cliff Huxtable.

Dad was the real deal, through and through. Bill Cosby just has excellent makeup.

I circle around and around this issue, wishing I could apologize to the women Cosby assaulted for my part in ignoring their plight.

I'm sorry I held onto Cliff Huxtable for so long. He was such a lovely dream.

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