One of the happy asides for me that came with being a father was having the opportunity to visit Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. As soon as my daughter was old enough to pay attention to television, we started tuning in to Fred Rogers’ program on Public Television. In fact, for all of my daughter’s pre-school and early elementary years, TV viewing for her was limited to PBS children’s programming, and a few other children’s programs at places like The Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon and on video tape.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, however, was the best thing ever developed in children’s programming. It was something my wife and I always enjoyed watching with our daughter. Once my daughter started preschool, I began taping Mister Rogers. I found that I could get a week’s worth of programming on one VHS tape (this was before TiVo, DVDs, etc.). That way she (and I) were able to watch the show later if the broadcast was missed. We loved the pace of the shows, and parents could learn about interacting with children by watching how Mister Rogers talked to children and what things he chose to talk about with children.
I learned some things myself about zoos and aviaries, about how graham crackers are made, how poets deal with words, and how musicians ply their talents, and many other fascinating things from Fred Rogers’ field trips. Above all, it was reassuring to watch him and understand that I could make it as a parent in spite of my doubts and worries about whether I could get this parenting thing right.
Fred Rogers may have been one of our best examples of a healthy, well-rounded life – a self-actualized person. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines self-actualization as “to realize fully one's potential.” It is a term coined by psychologist Kurt Goldstein and also used by psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. It carries the connotation that one is living fully within one’s potential and has made full use of that potential. Once I was taking a graduate course dealing with developmental psychology and the topic self-actualization was discussed. The instructor asked us to name some examples of people who were self actualized. Since I had spent some of my daughter’s formative years watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with her, I immediately put Fred Rogers' name to the class as one whose life was a prime example of self-actualization. The professor had a look of surprise, then of awareness. “I think he is a good example," the professor said. "Usually in class students will mention names like Jesus Christ, the Buddha, or Mahatma Gandhi, but Fred Rogers is certainly a good example of what we are talking about.”
Fred Rogers was definitely a gift to all who encountered him, whether in person or on television. He showed us how to talk to children and he taught us how to be a good neighbor. You can read another writer’s reflections in an article, “15 Reasons Mr. Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever.” There is also a wonderful video on You Tube in which John D Boswell (melodysheep) has done an auto-tune digitalization for PBS of some wonderful moments with Mister Rogers. You can see that delightful and inspirational video below.