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Editorial: Dads behaving badly

When “The Cosby Show” debuted in 1984, it ushered in a new era in American television. Cliff and Claire Huxtable were successful, African-American parents with a brood of happy, well-adjusted kids who lived in a mixed, urban environment in New York.

Here was a family America could love – largely because the characters seemed to genuinely love each other and did so without the sappiness of “The Waltons,” whose 10-year run had ended three years prior in 1981.

Cliff was a dad any kid would be happy to have. He was a firm, but loving disciplinarian with a goofy personality. His wife and kids adored him. And Americans soon welcomed him into their living rooms week after week. Not any more.

More than a dozen women have accused Cosby of sexual assault – and, after decades of syndication, TV Land has yanked “The Cosby Show” off the air.

Months before “The Cosby Show” found itself on the junk pile – the result of a misbehaving dad – another family drama landed there and for the same reason.

“Seventh Heaven” debuted in 1996, four years after “The Cosby Show” ended. In this wholesome family offering, Stephen Collins played not only the family patriarch but also the pastor of a Protestant congregation. His wife and kids adored him. His congregants trusted him and so did America.

In many homes, “The Cosby Show” and “Seventh Heaven” were the shows kids were allowed to watch without mom or dad being present and ready to react to inappropriate content with the power of the remote.

This fall, a recording of Collins purportedly acknowledging that he molested underage girls was released, and “Seventh Heaven” was yanked.

For those of us who grew up watching and admiring Collins and Cosby, their fall from grace can be hard to take. Our emotions range from disgust to sadness to frustration that our kids and grandkids won’t be able to enjoy the shows we loved.

They were such good shows, filled with moral themes and family values. But can we ever watch them the same way again?

That same question might be asked about “White Christmas.” The seasonal favorite stars Bing Crosby, who is well known for beating his kids. Yet despite his reputation, no one yanked all things Crosby off the air. Why not? Is abusing your kids OK, but abusing others not? Of course not.

Perhaps the reason Crosby remains in our homes when Cosby and Collins do not is because we were better at separating the man from the myth.

The myth is that Cosby and Collins are in realty the pillars of society they played on television. But those men are fictional characters created for television. If the morals depicted by those characters  were truly valid then the actions of the actors shouldn’t matter. And yet they do.

All too often we choose the wrong role models. We look to television to provide real life guidance when we should be looking closer to home.

In this week’s paper, Parkway graduate and Rhodes Scholar Elect Anisha Gururaj credits her teachers for having prepared her so well that she could test out of classes at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Of her former English/language arts teacher she says, “He challenged me to be the best me.” No doubt Anisha’s parents also challenged her, encouraged her and stood as role models for her.

Lafayette diver Matt McCool, whose story can be found on page 28, is another local youth who found his role models in real life. After capturing his first state championship in diving, he was quick to acknowledge his parents, grandfather, sister and coaches – all of whom he said played a role in his victory.

It’s easy to get caught up in the world of make believe and sometimes it’s hard to open our eyes to the harsh reality of real life. But despite what seems like overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are more good people in the world than bad, there are better role models in real life than even the best screenwriters can imagine, and good TV shows are only that – good TV shows regardless of who starred in them.

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