Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mr. Rogers talks to the U.S. Senate, 1969

I absolutely can't post from You Tube today for reasons that are clearly beyond my technical expertise, but here is a link to a video that is well worth your time, especially if you have children or work with children or know a child or two or even if you occasionally pass one on the street: watch video.

And in what I promise will be the final tribute of the day, here is a column I wrote in 2001:

As a kid, I had few heroes, but Mister Rogers always made the list.

Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, father of two, and neighbor of many, recently filmed his last episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. After some 900 episodes, he is moving on to other projects—not retiring, he has said in recent interviews. I watched the final episode with my son who squealed at the sight of the trolley, and delighted as we saw the fish one last time.

Mister Rogers has made me a better person, and most certainly a better parent. Who else could do a dozen different puppet voices, play a piano concerto and demonstrate how toothbrushes are made—all in half an hour?

In case you spent your childhood in a cave (or without the rabbit ears that provided the television reception of 30—I mean 25—years ago), the theme of Mister Rogers’ show, no matter what the topic of the day, was always the uniqueness of the individual. He said with complete honesty that you are special—you, me, and everyone on the planet. He taught me that I don’t have to be a lawyer or a writer or anything else to achieve greatness. I can make the world a better place with a smile, a song, or a hug.

For his trouble, Mister Rogers earned accolades and millions of loyal fans. But he took his share of heat, too. Cynics would say that no one could be that nice. They would be wrong. He is the real deal and no one can convince me otherwise.

As a child I was enchanted with the security of his routine: the jacket exchanged for a sweater, the tennis shoes, and the familiar songs he composed for his television neighbors. He sang them thousands of times, and always as though they were brand new. Those are the songs I sing to my children. When my daughter was a toddler, she went into an ear-shattering screech at bath time. We finally figured out that the sight of a tub full of water draining away was more than she could wrap her brain around. And so we sang. “You can never go down, never go down the drain.”

When my son does something wonderful, we sing. (Sing along now.) “I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you. I hope that you’re as proud as I am proud of you. I’m proud of yoooooou. I hope that you are proud of you, too.”

Mister Rogers sang, “I’m Proud of You” on his final show. It was a private concert, thank you very much. He sang it for me. (Trust me. I know these things.) You see, I’m learning. Being a parent is, at its best, all about being a kid. Everyone is special—just the way they are. And I don’t have to conquer the world; I just have to love my neighbor.

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