He comes into the house singing and full of joy, changes his shoes, unzips his jacket and opens the closet door. He puts on a forrest green sweater, settles into his chair and smiles gently towards the camera. He makes me feel good about him, me and my life. My childhood was full of great memories and cool TV shows like Schoolhouse Rock and Sesame Street, but Mr. Rogers stood out from the rest.
A few months ago I saw a huge poster board of Mr. Rogers. My heart started beating faster and I looked around to see if anyone else saw it. I didn’t see any reaction from the rest of the moviegoers. I said aloud to myself. ” Mr. Freaking Rogers.”
I kinda hid the fact that I was super geeked to see this movie. I never saw one preview or trailer and didn’t need to. On Thursday I saw the movie times available online and turns out it was playing everywhere all damn day. I texted my group of friends a list of movie times and waited for a reply. My friend Mina hit me back quick and we set a time to meet.
We met up at the movie theatre and she seemed happy to see the film, but I was real life excited, no BS. The movie quiz game seemed to go on forever and then the 50-11 trailers that don’t come out until fall.
Finally the film started, and I was instantly confused. Uhhhh I thought I was about to watch a movie about Fred Rogers. I was prepared to scrutinize the actor playing him and ready to see who would play his wife and sons. To my surprise, this was actually a documentary. I have seen most of the Netflix docs, along with the on demand 30 for 30’s, and Friday night’s 20/20 series. I had to change my mindset and was shocked when Mr. Freaking Rogers came on the screen talking directly to me.
Now remember, I am a Mr. Rogers fan and have been since age 6 but I didn’t know shit about this man. This documentary was not about Mr. Rogers; it was about Fred. It was time for me to learn about who he was and how he lived.
Fred Rogers was a man born to an upper middle class family. He had great parents and was raised with conservative morals and values. He went to college right out of high school and then went to school to be a minister. #1. Mr. Rogers was a pastor. He loved to spread the love of Christ and was set on preaching the gospel until he began watching TV shows. He noticed that the quality of TV was lacking and there was nothing positive geared toward children. He hated to see the slapstick shows where characters threw pies in each other’s faces. He sat in front of the tube and watched cartoons where bullies beat up on the little guy. He was horrified and vowed to create something better and more meaningful.
He always had a love for children and he merged his passion with television. His first idea was to use a tiger hand puppet to teach social skills like manners and compassion. That was going well but he wanted to go deeper, and boy did he. He created characters that had value and traits that could be taught to children. He found a great cast to help round out the six characters he played himself. #2 Mr. Freaking Rogers played all of those characters and did all of those voices. WTF
The show was becoming successful as the season progressed. He could have been happy with the way the show was going, but he wasn’t. While Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was growing and being viewed by millions worldwide; the world was in turmoil. Racism was still very prevalent in the late 1960’s. A group of black children were swimming in a city pool when a group of vile white adults poured bleach in the water. That sent him into an anger that could only be quelled by immediate action. He taped an episode where on a very hot day, he and a black mail carrier put their feet in a small tub to cool off. This was his way of saying that anyone who wants to swim should be able to without prejudice. #3. Fred Rogers was not silent when it was convenient, he took action in the face of discrimination.
When the country was at odds over The war in Iraq, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood reflected the feeling of confusion. He used the puppets and actors and actresses to address the fears and anxiety that children were feeling. This issue was being discussed among America’s adults but who was helping the children? Fred made that his job to educate and do so in a loving way.
Mr. Rogers became a TV personality who loved and advocated for children. He went before congress to plead his case regarding children’s programming at PBS. He didn’t use the normal political rhetoric; he simply sang a song about children being themselves and loving themselves. Doing so awarded him a grant for millions of dollars.
He had his critics, those who said he was strange, weird and even gay. But the rumors never seemed to bother him. Fred kept busy visiting schools and showing children love. Those who felt he was some pedophile would have to speak their madness while Rogers spoke self-love and love for others.
At the end of the documentary they showed numerous clips of the lives he touched. It showed children of all races, ethnicities and nationalities enjoying life; singing and dancing. As the final scene flashed across the screen all I could hear was sniffling, blowing noses, and a man took out his handkerchief. I tried to hold my tears back because I had not cried in a theatre since Will Smith’s Seven Pounds. I felt the tears fall as Mr. Fred Rogers said, “all I want to do is to have you think of all of the people who made you who you are. Think of all of the people who love you unconditionally. Think of those who have been there for you every moment of your life and share your love with them.”
His sons, his coworkers, his wife, and many who admired him entered the frame all naming the people who made them who they are, loved them unconditionally, andwere there for them each moment of their lives. I thought of my family members and ugly cried. I implore you after reading this blog to do the same. Think of those who made you who you are, loved you unconditionally, and were there for you each moment of your life… and share your love with them