The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers | A Review

This is an entry in a series that may or may not be completely selfish. I’ve gone back and forth over the years on how best to describe my ongoing ideological journey, or truly if it’s worth describing to you, the reader, in the first place. At the same time I have a tendency to grow weary of debates raging on Facebook and Twitter rather quickly.

And so what I’m offering (perhaps only to myself) is a brief chronicle of books I’ve been reading, enjoying, arguing with and adoring. Of course, I agree with precisely nobody on every issue, so if this were a Twitter account I’d say something like, “An entry does not constitute an endorsement.” That being said, life is just too short to read bad books and you can be sure that if I feel like I’m wasting my time reading it there’s a small chance I’ll write about it…mainly because I am selfish.
Thanks for indulging. Feel free to reach out with push-back, questions, etc.

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Gist
Author Maxwell King’s biography of Fred Rogers reveals that Fred Rogers was a gift and a treasure. He was imperfect and has his share of flaws…but wow. What an amazing human being.

What Drew Me
To be completely honest this book was a gift from Peggy and I was not aware of its existence before I received it. That being said, I have had a deep love of Mr. Rogers since I was a little boy; and one that has been renewed since I entered fatherhood almost five years ago. Through the years I’ve remembered his eye-contact, his slow, focused attention and the kindness he embodied.

But of course, I also remember the rumors of his being a former Navy Seal, of his living a double-life or of his being something between a Chuck Norris-type hero and a fraud.

What is perhaps surprising to the reader is that Mr. Rogers was none of that. In fact, he was exactly the neighbor we grew up learning from and admiring.
As a graduate of Pittsburgh Seminary, an ordained Presbyterian minister and a trained (and accomplished – did you realize that he wrote over 200 songs for the Neighborhood?) musician. Fred Rogers was the genuine article. He spent years learning under and consulting with groundbreaking child therapists. He refused to have advertisers on his show target children.

In short, his outward expressions of care, intentional listening and kindness came out of a deep well of compassion that he had cultivated his entire life.

Takeaway
Fred Rogers was not perfect. He had a temper. He had, at times, difficult relationships with both of his sons. His dedication to “healthy living” seems to have had a religious (and obsessive) aspect to it. And his reluctance to publicly take political sides through the years that included the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War, the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement (a sidenote that he was in the public eye for decades!), though tempered by, for instance, by his complex friendship with Francois Clemmons, was arguably a loss for many.

What is so striking in King’s book is that we get in touch with the full humanity of Mr. Rogers. And we come away feeling that he was every bit as kindhearted, generous, open and earnest as he came across when we were kids. Add to this that he had a great sense of humor (there’s a few gems in here, one featuring young stagehand Michael Keaton hiding a blow-up sex doll in Mister Rogers’s closet as he opened his closet door to grab his sweater. His response was, without skipping a beat, to take the doll in his arms and dance it across the stage, then back into the closet), that he was incredibly creative and genuinely curious about countless people he came into contact with through the course of his life.

I came away wondering what I was contributing to my children; how I was making the world around me richer, fuller and kinder.

And that’s a good feeling.

Best Quote
“Fred Rogers doesn’t offer an answer to today’s profound dilemmas, nor does he offer an escape from them. But he does offer a philosophy, an approach, that can enable us to better manage through the struggle. He offers the idea of slowing down…way down to Fred-time…to get to a calmer place from which to work. He offers the idea of simplicity: of reducing things to their most constructive and elemental, to Freddish – a base from which to build understanding. He urges us to value our global citizens “just the way they are,” no matter their skin color or religious affiliation.”

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