If I could teach parents (and grandparents) one thing today, it would be that free episodes of Mr. Rogers are available on YouTube. Most grandparents will remember the old PBS show positively. Some younger parents today may not even be aware of its existence. Although Fred Rogers was mocked by teenagers in the 70s and beyond, and although unkind rumors were concocted about him, he and his legacy are valuable national treasures, in my estimation.
My son and I have recently watched a few episodes — initially at the suggestion of my mother (who always knew Mr. Rogers was more valuable for children’s development than Sesame Street or any of the later kids’ shows).
I smiled inside and out when, in an episode about loving others, Mr. McFeely taught the TV audience that, in order to love someone, someone has to love you first. In that episode, Rogers (as though he were learning the idea at the time instead of having written the episode) gently commented that Mr. McFeely was such a wise man.
I’ll bet a lot more God-based teachings came out of Fred Rogers’s creative, wise spirit — all before it was politically incorrect to be Christian or to be associated with Christianity.
Remembering, Learning, and Unlearning
I’ve known for years that Fred Rogers, besides being a Presbyterian minister, was a musician who composed songs for the show, including the opening and closing numbers. I had thought he was the jazz pianist heard throughout most episodes, but I was wrong about that: according to this article, most of the piano music was arranged and performed by Johnny Costa. (Many melodies were composed — and vocals, performed — by Rogers himself.)
As a child, I had no idea that some of the voices of the puppets in the Land of Make Believe used Fred Rogers’s voice. It’s now clear to me that Rogers himself is “X the Owl” and “King Friday”! — and probably more.
See what we can learn if we pay attention? Truth may not be new, but it can come newly to us if we pay attention. We may also have to unlearn some things in the process. . . . Some previously held ideas (like my thought that Fred Rogers was himself the jazz pianist on the show) may turn out to be incorrect.
I won’t say “RIP, Fred Rogers,” because it strikes me as meaningless to address a comment to a dead person. I’ll just say that I am grateful for the influence of the late Fred Rogers and for his ways of teaching children. (I’m also grateful for YouTube!)