As the father of four girls and a boy, Bill Cosby knows children well. Drawing on his years of experience, he traces the stages of fathering from before the birth of the child to his (or her) return home after college, unemployment, and divorce.

Cosby knows that being a father is not easy. As he points out, even God had problems with his first children: As soon as he told Adam and Eve not to do something, they did it. Such behavior prompts Cosby to formulate his “First Law of Intergenerational Perversity.” To get a child to do his homework, for example, tell him “to forget about school and spend the next two weeks at the mall.”

Cosby also notes that parenting is expensive. Fathers even have to pay for their own Father’s Day gifts. Then there are the toys, followed by the stereo, the car, and college. Every father’s name, Cosby observes, is “Dad-Can-I.”

Aside from asking for things, children tend not to talk to their fathers, even when their fathers try to talk to them. The standard response to parental questions are “okay” and “no problem,” by which the child means, “I haven’t killed anyone.”

Such replies are part of the child’s ceaseless efforts to mystify his parents. How can a child whose native language is English fail that subject in school? How can a child with the energy to jump rope for half an hour nonstop get tired after six seconds of housecleaning? Is that surly youngster who cannot get his dirty socks to the hamper the same person that a friend describes as so polite and helpful around the house?

Beneath such humorous reflections lie some serious messages. However uncommunicative a child may be, a father must still keep the channels of communication open. However aggravating a child’s behavior, one must still love the child and let the child know he is loved. However remote a child may seem, he needs to know that his father is available when needed.

Cosby does not pretend to offer solutions to all the problems of being a father. Still, his book should make present and prospective fathers more comfortable in dealing with this difficult role. After all, it is nice to know that even Bill Cosby once spanked his son.