My fantasy dad has been in the news lately. A lot in the news. And not in the good way that beloved icons are in the news.
My fantasy dad was Bill Cosby, and he has probably raped lots of women, and he’s probably never going to serve a day in jail for it.
My life could be a little dark when I was growing up. My step-father was a bit of an ass. And by “a bit” I mean “a lot”. And he had my mother’s full support. I actually don’t want it to seem like I dwell on these matters, because I really don’t. Almost thirty years have passed since I left my mom’s house. So much has happened in the intervening time that has defined me since then.
But I can still so clearly remember, starting in 1984, tuning in to the Cosby show on the tiny black and white TV in my mother’s bedroom, and for a half an hour being drawn into a world where family meant a mother and a father living in the same house. With siblings. And love and humor. Problems were always addressed with a firm and loving approach. This family even got mad at each other affectionately. How I wished to join them on the other side of that glass, just go live forever with Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad. Malcolm-Jamal Warner could be my big brother, and Lisa Bonet and I could share her awesome wardrobe.
I saw Bill Cosby in an old 1970’s movie recently. The film was 1978’s California Suite. It was one of those lighthearted films with an ensemble cast – Jane Fonda, Alan Alda, Walter Matthau, etc. – who portray guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Bill’s character was there with his brother-in-law, aka Richard Pryor, and as I watched the two engage in their on-screen shenanigans, I searched for any possible sign of the dark force below that affable surface. Of course, that darkness evades detection entirely.
I sincerely want to believe that this man, the father of my dreams, is as harmless, gentle, and loving as his public persona has led me to believe for my entire life. But when evidence piles up as victims and near-victims alike come forward with their stories, my logical self cannot refute that evidence.
In 2007, my step-father passed away. His body and mind were in ruins and he was a shell of his former self. Later that year, my mother became very ill with Guillane-Barre syndrome and nearly died. After extensive rehab in which she relearned how to walk, she sold her Connecticut house and moved to Florida. She lives five miles from me and helps to care for my children, shuttling them from school to activities, going to soccer games and karate classes. We talk on the phone and joke and laugh. We enjoy one another’s company. She is unrecognizable when compared with the stern disciplinarian of my childhood.
As the demons of my early years have faded away, so too do the heroes, those who my naive young mind placed on a pedestal. Those have been replaced by real people – by my father-in-law, who photographed Soviet missiles in Cuba and retells the story in a quiet, matter-of-fact manner. My husband, who took his turn walking the floor with his babies at night and devotes all of his spare time to connecting with his family. By my former boss, my friend the veteran, my aunt.
Heroes still abound, all within arm’s reach.