This may seem odd coming from someone known for what we do here, but I miss Mr. Rogers.
Fred Rogers died six years ago today after a long and often parodied career in children’s television. He was always good-natured about himself as a source of satire, accepting that it came with the territory. By all accounts, he was a genuinely warm, gentle man; an ordained minister who lived his faith every day, and did so with a smile.
To some degree, I can personally attest to that. When I was in college, Mr. Rogers visited to give a lecture on children and the media. It helps to know that this was at Yale University, from whence come future leaders, intellectuals, and super-high achievers… as well as occasional weirdoes like myself. I remember everyone joking around when they saw the posters on campus: would he change into his sweater and sneakers when he entered the lecture hall? Would he bring King Friday?… etc. etc. & so on.
My friends and I decided to show up just for giggles. When we got to the building where Mr. Rogers was supposed to speak, there was a big notice: the event had been moved to a much larger venue because of the numbers of people already showing up.
Mr. Rogers was a rock star that afternoon. Everyone at Yale wanted to see the man — most of us had distinct memories of him. Many like myself wanted to be all ironic-like, I’m sure.
When he stepped out and began to speak, the cognitive dissonance spiked. It was funny, of course — that WAS his actual voice on the show. But with that hyper-gentle voice he gave an intelligent, scholarly lecture passionately defending children. He insisted that the media lets young children down, pushing and selling things they’re not ready for; and that his show, silly as it was to adults, was specifically designed to go at a young child’s pace. He thought of young children as human beings with emotional lives worth addressing, even if it came at the price of being occasionally parodied. In fact, he said he enjoyed those too.
He left to a standing ovation.
Having young children myself now, I appreciate that not all is snark and irony. Or worse: nihilism. We love doing what we do here, but I’m ever grateful for people like the late Fred Rogers, and my daughter’s wonderful preschool teachers, who do what THEY do so well, and so generously.
I do have one problem with Mr. Rogers, however — one that has occasionally overpowered the sentiments expressed above about this lovely man. And that problem is:
All that said, I realize you may not feel the affection I do for this late children’s TV star. But please know that if you badmouth this kind, dedicated man, who always taught us to be considerate and gentle, I will gut you like a damned fish. Thanks, neighbor.