Six Reasons Why Mr. Rogers Was Probably the Best Person Ever

In the wake of the Boston bombings, this Mr. Rogers meme made its way around the Intertron:

This made me happy for two reasons. One, Mr. Rogers was basically the mascot of my entire childhood and nostalgia is my kryptonite. All you have to do is show me a clip of the Duck Tales theme song and I will become your slave. Guys, it’s bad.

Two, the words in the picture are pure and true. The fact that so many other people found rest in them reassured me that life was not all terrible. My daughter who turned one around the same time soon decided that Mr. Rogers was the only person she wanted to watch, and this was fine by me because he beats all the magenta-colored cartoon characters on TV 9,327 to one. The more I watched, the more I remembered the man who was Mr. Fred Rogers. And I’m convinced he was one of the most wonderful people to ever grace our planet. Here’s why.

Mr. Rogers sweater 1. Those sweaters? His mom made them.

Every single one of them. Mr. Rogers was going homespun back when Etsy was just a glimmer in its mama’s mama’s eye. Supporting the uterus you came from is probably the most local thing you can do.

2. He validated your feelings and helped you find the tools to deal with them.

Ever feel like the only way to deal with your frustrations is to glue gun your flip-flops onto your feet to keep them on and to pin eleventy billion pictures of the life you’ll never have? Try being a kid. Kids do with what they have. If they get angry, sometimes they bite because they have teeth. Sometimes they throw because they have arms. A lot of times, they internalize their anger or sadness until it comes a-bubblin’ up later on to hurt not only themselves but others too. Mr. Rogers taught kids (and adults) to vent in safe, productive ways. He gave them a vocabulary to express the emotions they were entitled to. He saw them as humans, which, it turns out, they are. I know. I was surprised too.

3. He was a borrower who treated his friends’ stuff like it was made of gold-plated diamonds fused to Faberge eggs.

Mr. Rogers didn’t hoard every precious thing he could find. In almost every episode, he came through that door with some random item – a snow globe, a VHS of the making of cereal, a whirly gig – that one of his neighbors had loaned to him, and he treated those random items with respect. I never borrow anything because OMG TARGET NEEDS ME NOW. Yeah, Target doesn’t need me. We could all do a little better to borrow instead of buy.

Mr. Rogers Neighborhood set

Mr. Rogers: man caving since 1968

4. He clearly decorated his own house.

Um, so, Mr. Rogers’ curtains were ugly. They always kind of reminded me of this sofa in the back of my grandparents’ house that smelled like mothballs and had 900 Cheerios jammed between the cushions. But it was OK that his curtains were ugly. Instead of hiring out the decoration of his pad, he probably did it himself and aimed to please no one. There was no Pinterest back then but even if there were, he would still march to the beat of his own home décor drum.

5. He did not endorse any products.

I am all for talking about stuff that I love. I am an adult (they tell me), and usually I am telling other adults about the crap that I’m obsessed with. But kids don’t have as keen a filter as adults do. Just saying the word “Cookie Monster” to my daughter makes her pass out in sheer delirium. Mr. Rogers got this, and he didn’t try selling stuff to the kids who looked up to him. His role was one of helper and guide, not purveyor of sugar-coated toys. He didn’t want to take advantage of them, and that’s why when Burger King created an ad based on the persona of Mr. Rogers in the ’80’s, he insisted that it be removed.

6. He made time each day for make believe.

Our mind is a place that is plastic and meant to be explored, but often we shut off our relaxed, artistic inclinations when we become adults. Not Mr. Rogers. He did not use his adulthood as an excuse to be stoic and practical all the time. Whenever Trolley pulled into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Mr. Rogers’ thoughts could wander and they were allowed to be ridiculous and borderline nonsensical. Seriously nonsensical. How is Lady Aberlane – a real live person – the niece of King Friday XIII – a puppet? My brain cannot wrap around this. But Mr. Roger’s brain? It could, and he convinced me that it was totally normal and awesome.

What was your favorite thing about Mr. Rogers?

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43 thoughts on “Six Reasons Why Mr. Rogers Was Probably the Best Person Ever

  1. Mr. Rogers taught kids (and adults) to vent in safe, productive ways. He gave them a vocabulary to express the emotions they were entitled to. He saw them as humans, which, it turns out, they are. I know. I was surprised too.

    I never really thought much about it in this way, though it’s so incredibly true and makes me think a great deal about how much Mr. Rogers has contributed to my life (he was always my favorite as a kid, I still remember waiting patiently through Sesame Street — which was good, but it wasn’t Mr. Rogers). But those four sentences alone encompass so much of my life, from when I was a wee child up until this very day with my oldest nearly 14 (pardon me for a moment while I deal with that last thing).

    And also The Neighborhood of Make Believe. . . My gosh, that was the part I nearly wet myself waiting for every show! Daniel Striped Tiger I loved so much especially, and I think when he greets me at the Pittsburgh airport later this month I will now probably break down crying thanks to you. The Neighborhood of Make Believe not only spoke to me as a child, it’s gotten me through a great deal of the really hard times in my adult life, in one way or another.

    I also adored his blue shoes, and wanted a pair exactly like them so much. My love affair with shoes began early, and clearly not with the fancy, four-inch heeled footwear I adore so now. 😉

    • I agree with every word here. I looked forward to seeing him come on TV a lot too, simply because his show was so different from anything else out there. I felt edified (even though that isn’t the word I would have described it with bath then) after I watched it, and even now, watching him with C makes my blood pressure go down a few ticks.

  2. When Mr. Rogers is mentioned, I always think of the book “Piano Girl”; a stellar memoir about a woman who became famous for her cocktail piano playing. There’s this whole section where she talks about meeting Mr. Rogers and how he impacted her life and how she found it amazing that he genuinely cared about his impact on children. Sadly, that’s a rarity, even in- no, especially in show-biz.

    Loved this post! I didn’t know that fact about Burger King.

    • That is so cool! My husband was telling me recently about a book or a documentary (I can’t remember which) where a man tells a story from his childhood of spending time with Fred Rogers. Apparently, his family’s summer cottage was right up the road from where Mr. Rogers spent his vacations. What a wonderful memory to have!

  3. I learned so much from this! I think my toddler years coinciding with Mr. Rogers’ years on air was the best thing that my parents could’ve asked for. They were entranced by him as much as I. I think they were a little creeped out by King Friday but then again, who wasn’t?

    • OK, so I didn’t remember King Friday being so intense when I was a kid, but now that I watch the episodes with C, he TOTALLY is. There is one time where he gets really mad about something dumb and ends up breaking one of his son’s toys out of anger. Everyone sees it and is like, “Uuuuuuuuuum?” He had some real aggression problems. There’s a back story somewhere.

  4. So, I’m kind of all weepy. I just had a seriously hard flashback to sitting on our maroon carpeting with some apple juice and arrowroot cookies and watching how crayons were made on Picture, Picture. And I never cared that Mr. McFeely had the creepiest name ever for a kids’ show nor that he never seemed to be moving very speedily for his speedy deliveries. It was amazing. It was all amazing. The other great thing about Mr. Rogers was that when he was trying new things, like how to jump rope or build a guitar or something, he always sucked at it. I think it’s important for kids to see that you don’t have to be good at something the first time you try it. Man, he really did get it right every time.

    Oh, and “Supporting the uterus you came from is probably the most local thing you can do.” You give me new reasons to love you everyday.

    • Ahhh, thank you! Did you know what “McFeely” was Mr. Roger’s middle name? I learned lots of fun little facts like that when I was writing this.

      I have a lot of wonderful memories of the show too. I watched it waaaaay into my elementary school years because my mom always wanted my little brother to watch it, but he didn’t like it so I was given the task to watch it with him so he wouldn’t change the channel to Tiny Toons. Haha.

    • Exactly. That’s what strikes me about the show today. When he speaks to children on the show, he treats them like humans and he doesn’t speak down to them. It’s really a challenge to do that sometimes.

  5. I love that he sang.
    I love that he was so calm, and didn’t use/need all the overstimulation and flashing lights that kids get so often.
    And most importantly, I loved that he never talked down to kids.

  6. Pingback: Meeting Mr. McFeely | The Waiting

  7. “Nostalgia is my Kryptonite.” That is the most amazing sentence ever! I’m right there with ya. I used to live me Rogers and Sesame Street and PeeWee’s Playhouse and Ghostbusters…ok, I may have watched too much tv as a child. I loved them all. I cries when Harold Ramis died. In college I discovered that you could watch every episode of Rainbow Brite online. So I did, completely unironicallly. So, I hear you sister. I kinda miss a world where Mr Rogers is a tv star…

    • You are among friends here. We were ALL addicted to TV when we were kids, and I am totally with you on Harold Ramis dying. EGON! My brother was beyond obsessed with the Ghostbusters and I think his adoration rubbed off on me.

  8. Possibly my favorite thing about Mr. Rogers Emily is this post because he entered the scene after my time. In my developing years I learned my valuable life lessons from daily Three Stooges watching. Fred sounds like a cut above Moe, Larry and Curly.

      • The Stooges enhanced my vocabulary. They introduced me to “idiot”, “imbecile” and that classic verse, “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.” My bud, Martini Max, is a big Little Rascals fan, but I never got into them because I was too busy playing Food Fight with my brother.

  9. So sweet! What awesome insights and observations too. I’m curious about where you got the idea to write such a cool post.

    Anyway… I clearly remember being at my grandma’s when I was six years old and sick with pneumonia. Grandma walked in and saw me watching Mr Rogers and made fun of him and I got so upset… Quickly defending him I protested, “He’s my friend!”

    I think that’s what I liked about him most. He had the ability to come through the screen and become your friend by asking questions and pausing as if he was listening.

    • Thanks, Jacquie! I think I just got the idea from watching the show with my daughter. I have a lot of warm, emotional memories tied to watching Mr. Rogers when I was a child, so they all came bubbling up to the surface when I watched the show again with adult eyes.

      I don’t know if you’d be interested, but I recently wrote another post on my personal blog about meeting Mr. McFeely – another character on the show – at a PBS event last month. It as awesome to meet him because he’s really carrying on the legacy of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Like Mr. Rogers, he was extremely personal and friendly. http://notthehardestpart.com/2014/02/14/6196/

  10. The show of the day when my daughter was little was Sesame Street, with its hyperkinetic muppets and play-game teaching. I thought Mr. Rogers was kind of dull in comparison…so why did I find myself setting the channel for his neighborhood more and more often? Because he embodied all the things I wanted my kids to be, and all the things I wanted to be myself. Teach By Example is not just a cute little axiomatic phrase, folks.

  11. I live in India so I don’t know Mr Rogers, but he seems to be the embodiment of all the really positive, good things you would like your children to grow up knowing and learning about life from. What a good writer and critic you are.

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