A Beloved TV Dad Offers Advice on Fatherhood

Jan 20, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:very funny, good example for fathers to follow

Cons:Poussaint's writing is pretty dry

The Bottom Line: "My childhood should have taught me lessons for my own fatherhood, but it didn't because parenting can only be learned by people who have no children."

My all-time favorite family sit-com is The Cosby Show, and from a very early age, I thought of Bill Cosby as the quintessential TV dad. Hence, when I happened upon his book Fatherhood at my grandma’s house, I was curious to read it. The book had been given to my grandpa as a gift shortly after it was published in May of 1987, two years before his death. I was only eight at the time, but I knew him long enough to be well aware of what a great dad he was, and I can attest that he raised three great dads as well.

Cosby’s book is part memoir and part parenting manual, all infused with the zingy humor with which he has delighted fans for decades. There are definite moments of warmth, but mostly it’s curmudgeonly comedy as he grumbles over the crazy things kids do – and remarks on how crazy parents are to sign on for it. Along with his own show, reading his book largely reminded me of two of my favorite comic strips, Baby Blues, which covers the trials of toddlerhood, and Zits, which focuses on the frustration of being – and raising – a teenager.

It seems that nothing in the realm of parenting has changed much since Cosby wrote this book. Some of the scenarios he describes have played out in very much the same way in the funny pages lately. I particularly thought of Jeremy Duncan and his hapless parents when I read Cosby’s diatribe against the high volume and low class of the music he hears blasting out of his teen’s stereo.

Fatherhood is divided into sections and proceeds in roughly chronological order from pre-parenthood to having an empty nest. Within each chapter, however, he jumps back and forth a bit. The book is largely a series of brief anecdotes and reflections, making it ideal for reading a little bit at a time. A good stopping point is likely to come along every couple of pages.

It’s clear every step of the way that Bill Cosby is passionate about parenting. He acknowledges that it’s hard work and takes parents to task for not being willing to invest their time in this all-important relationship with their children. He advocates a hands-on fathering style of nurturing children and having fun with them while also holding them accountable and helping them mature into responsible young adults. There’s plenty of good advice by example, and sometimes negative example, within these pages.

The book begins and ends with some reflections by Alvin F. Poussaint, a Harvard psychiatrist. While I read everything he had to say, I found his remarks pretty dull and overly academic. I guess they put the book into a useful context by commenting on how Cosby’s approach differs from that of many fathers in generations that preceded him, but it’s certainly not as engaging as the main text.

At under 200 pages, with lots of paragraph breaks, Fatherhood is a quick read. I got through it in an afternoon, and I’m a pretty slow reader. I laughed my way through much of it, and it made me want to watch The Cosby Show again as soon as possible and reminded me how lucky I am to have a dad who is equally devoted to his children.

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