The grandfather’s teachings took a practical turn when Cosby turned 14.
“He knew I was chomping at the bit … to play football for Central High School in Philadelphia,” Cosby said. “[And] he said to me, ‘I just want to tell you: Don’t play football. Your bones are not strong enough. … If I were you, I would wait ‘til you’re around 23 years old.’ Twenty-three. I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
The young Cosby did not heed his grandfather’s advice, and, as fate would have it, broke his shoulder in the first game of the season.
“I was at home, and I had the cast on and granddad came [to visit],” Cosby said. “He just turned that handle, walked in, and he looked at me and I was on the sofa. He was talking to my mother and I set my ears back so I could listen to him, because I knew I was waiting on him to tell my mother, ‘I told junior not to play football.’”
But the senior Cosby didn’t say anything like that.
Instead, Bill Cosby said, “he bent over and he kissed me on the forehead and said, ‘How you feeling?’ And I said, ‘Fine, granddad. I’m just really sad.’ And he put a quarter in my hand and he said, ‘Go get yourself some ice cream. It’s got calcium in it,’ and he left.”
A touching gesture? Certainly. But also, in Cosby’s memory, “a smooth way of putting me down.”
One can draw a clean line from this early experience to Cosby’s comedy, and to the tough-love advice for which he’s known: When it comes to parenting, to raising young people and keeping them safe, it’s better to be right than liked.
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