WASHINGTON, DC, June 17, 2012—On this Father’s Day, I am in Virginia while my parents are at their home in South Florida. So a phone call is as good as it will get.
My father is a private person, and will spend the day quietly. He has been in poor health for almost a quarter of a century now.
He has had a hard life, and my wish for him on Father’s Day is simply a healthier day than usual.
Dwelling on what is wrong serves no purpose since many people have no father at all. A couple of my closest friends grew up without a father. Father time has taken many other fathers from their children and wives.
So this Father’s Day has me reflecting back to a much happier time over three decades ago.
My dad was healthy. My grandfather (his father) was still alive. The three of us and my friend Ken would sit down in what may have been one of the only family male bonding experiences in my existence.
Many times over the years my grandfather questioned my father, and he in turn looked at me with bewilderment. Yet Bill Cosby took it to another level when he took one of his children to City Hall to have them declared “legally stupid.”
Mr. Cosby brought his humor to us on one fun Summer day. My father had bought a VCR, and we all sat down to watch a relatively new video entitled “Bill Cosby: Himself.”
This video where Mr. Cosby talks about his own parents and his own children will still be relevant one thousand years from now. That video may be the funniest comedy video of all time.
I just remember how happy my dad was that day. My grandfather spoke broken English, and also led a hardscrabble life. He rarely ever smiled. Yet he understood the Bill Cosby routine, and genuinely enjoyed it.
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We all sat on various couches and my dad navigated. Whenever Cosby would talk about his parents driving him crazy, my dad would point to my grandfather and say “that’s you, pop.” When Cosby made fun of his children driving him crazy, my dad pointed to me and said, “That’s you, Eric.”
My friend Ken would chime in on occasion.
When Cosby made fun of his children and my dad tried to relate it to me, my grandfather said that was really my dad. When Cosby pointed out that his father was the issue and my dad would relate it to my grandfather, I pointed out that maybe Cosby was talking about my dad.
This was all done in good fun. Three decades later, Cosby’s remarks about his family are as hilarious as ever.
“All children have brain damage. My father never smiled, because I had brain damage. My wife and I don’t smile because our children are loaded with it.”
“I asked my child why he did something, and he said ‘I don’t know.’ When you ask somebody why they do something and they say ‘I don’t know,’ that’s brain damage.”
Just when my dad had said, “That’s you, Eric” for the millionth time, it was my grandfather’s turn. My grandfather (and my father) are Holocaust survivors, yet here they were laughing about how Cosby’ stories from his father were amplified over time. My grandfather was not a man prone to any kind of amusement, but on this day he really did like what he was watching.
“I asked my father for a dollar, and he told me his life story. He never told a happy story. For one dollar their never was happiness.”
“I asked my father for fifty cents and he told me how he killed a grizzly bear with his loose leaf notebook.”
“Now he gives money to the grandchildren and they think he is the most generous man on Earth. I tell my kids, ‘That’s not the same man I grew up with. That’s an old man now trying to get into Heaven.’”
This one really hit home because my grandfather was very generous with me. He always had money for me. My dad was not as successful when he was a child getting money from my grandfather. They did not have it.
Yet the one line that really had my grandfather truly laughing was when Cosby talked about his father’s exaggerated struggles.
“The man ate dirt until he was 30 years old. That’s all there was, was dirt.”
Right on cue, my dad said, “That’s you, pop.”
“He was thankful to eat that dirt. No matter what happened, he’d say, ‘and I was thankful to get it.’ My father walked to school…at 4:00am every morning…with no shoes on…in six feet of snow…uphill…both ways…and he was thankful.”
One of the reasons that day was so great is because for a brief moment my grandfather was not worried. Escaping the Holocaust and coming to America saved his life, but he never got “comfortable.” He had everything taken away from him in Europe, and spent decades fearing it could all be taken away again.
Yet here we all were in America in a nice house in a middle class neighborhood. There was a beautiful inground swimming pool in the back yard and a nice green lawn. We had a television and a VCR. Nobody was taking any of this away from us.
My grandfather had heard about the American dream, but seeing his grandchildren playing safely and watching television without worries was his true happiness. When the grandkids graduated college, he beamed with pride.
For all the joking about braggadocio in the Cosby video, my grandfather was a humble man. The only reason anybody knows that he paid for my room and board at college is because I talk about this. He saved nickels and dimes for 60 years so his grandkids could go to college.
Even in his final years, I would call him every Tuesday and my father would call him every Friday.
One of the last times I visited with him had him lamenting that he did not have more money for me. I kept telling him that I did not need money from him, and never asked for money.
He insisted I did need it, and he was not a man to argue with. He was always worried that we were not ok even when we said we were.
I told him that no matter what happened to me, I would never have it as difficult as he did.
“Grandpa, I have it easy. You ate dirt until you were 30 years old.”
He laughed, and in his broken English said something to the effect that he was thankful to eat that dirt. He remembered Bill Cosby.
To my friend Ken, thank you for three decades of friendship.
To my late grandfather, I love you and miss you very much. I am glad we watched that video together.
To my father, I love you and hope you have good health today, and some better days ahead. That video, and the memories it created, are still powerful after all these years.
To Bill Cosby, that video was my father’s parenting bible. So when I say Mr. Cosby is “America’s father,” I mean it.
Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Cosby. I suspect that many fathers and grandfathers wish that for you.
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