My dad and I used to have stimulating conversations about faith, family, personal responsibility and the rewards of hard work, and I miss him.
An Army veteran who designed medals for our armed forces, my dad, Arnold P. Simmons, remained a student of religion and history until succumbing to Alzheimer's more than two decades ago.
He also was the funniest man I knew and very opinionated (wink, wink). And while no one can possibly replace him, I sought out, for this Father's Day message, a man who comes pretty doggone close.
"Dr. Cosby, I presume?"
"Yes," Bill Cosby replied from the other end of the phone Tuesday evening.
After the social obligatories, our conversation touched on not only the meaning of fatherhood, but "daddydom" and the "love package" — and on the op-ed piece he wrote in the New York Post that has, unfortunately, drawn criticism about Jew hatred from the here-he-goes-again crowd, the one that thinks he's puttin' down black folk.
But early on, Mr. Cosby expounded on Father's Day itself, with a doff of a hat and a bow to moms, of course.
"If you're looking at Sunday, it's a day for all of us who made the children. And it's a celebration of being around where the fullest of the celebrations is, with the children who can make it to the table, celebrating with the father and the mom — whose labor pains get another year longer.
"Many times she's in charge of what father may get on Father's Day," he added, as I sensed a slight smile even through the phone line.
"A father, a father who is there for his children, who is there with the mother, completes the love package for the child," Mr. Cosby said. "[A son] sees that mom is happy, and he can emulate that, carry that love to his own children.
"When mom is not happy, and you [the son] are told you're the man of the house and you're already feeling abandoned — whether the father is absent because he is at war or lives down the street — that abandonment can last for a long, long, long time."
This humorist, though, said he had a special Father's Day message for males who have yet to become fathers and for the messengers who need to step forward and deliver it.
"If you want to become a responsible father, know that when you become a father, it's for life, and that it's for the life of the child," he said. "That's your promissory note, and to make sure there is love."
To illustrate the abandonment a child confronts even amid a victorious feat, Mr. Cosby, an athlete in his younger days and still a diehard sports fan, spoke of a youngster who had just won a championship football game, yet afterward felt dejected because he was walking away with only mom at his side, while a player on the losing team had their dads by their sides.
"You can apply that to different scenarios," said the actor who played America's No. 1 TV dad.
With wife, Camille, by his side since they met and fell in love in the District five decades ago, Mr. Cosby, 75, still does his thigh-slapping, laugh-a-minute stand-up routines (those he's usually seated these days). But in recent years, he has taken heat for his blunt we-need-to-talk-about-this-now commentaries.
A few years back, he told black America to claim ownership of its ups and downs, and last year his comments to me about guns and the Trayvon Martin killing drew a remarkable response. And he recently wrote a piece in the New York Post in which he said we could benefit from emulating some of the cultural behaviors of black Muslims — "who put so much effort into teaching children the right things, they don't smoke, they don't drink or overindulge in alcohol, they protect their women. We don't have to become black Muslims, but we can embrace the things that work," he said.
Some boys and men can't tell the difference between being a father and being a member of what young people call "daddydom" — a fantasyland where girls and women allow boys and men to unzip their pants as they please.
"It's tempting," Mr. Cosby said. "I just want the message to get to these young boys who are thinking it [fatherhood] is a rite of passage, and the message is for females, too."
"If more and more people resoundingly bring out the facts and the message — my children, my responsibility — we'll be better."
In closing, I almost asked Mr. Cosby how he was doing, but then I heard him deliver that laugh, that Fat Albert-like laugh, as we exchanged other pleasantries.
I miss my dad, but Mr. Cosby put me on point — again.
Happy Father's Day.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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