Like many millennials, I’m easily caught up in the wave of nostalgia that seems to be having a cultural moment. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve teared up when Rachael “got off the plane” on Friends. I was born in 1988, and while I’m not exactly an expert on this “adulting” thing as the kids call it, I do remember fondly growing up prior to the hyper-connectivity that many American kids are faced with today. I still remember when my family got the internet on our computer when I entered middle school and being warned by teachers not to trust any information that I found online because it was likely phony. Now, my 3-year-old son knows how to ask Alexa questions. Rather than communicate in person or through notes home, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher can communicate, send documents home, or do basically anything through the app ClassDojo.
It all just seems so much. So connected. All. The. Time.
That’s why I’m so glad that in the midst of all of the cultural nostalgia that Mr. Rogers is getting a moment too. If you haven’t seen “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks, do yourself two favors: grab a box of tissues and click play. Your appreciation for what was likely a seminal figure in your childhood will only grow as you watch Mr. Rogers through the eyes of an adult. As you will learn from the film (no spoilers!), the lessons of Mr. Fred Rogers certainly did not end with your childhood.
1. The Importance of Routine
Look, I am a college professor, own a marketing agency, and just finished a graduate degree. Not to mention being the father of five-year-old Emily, three-year-old Andrew, and the best dog on God’s green earth. Oh yeah, my wife – spending time with her is pretty darn important too. Throw in friends, exercise, church, and the occasional Netflix show, routines can feel like a luxury for a young family. Mr. Rogers taught me the quiet, profound wisdom in a simple daily routine. He always put the sneakers on. He always hung his clothes up. He always fed the fish. Mr. Rogers’ life may not seem exciting in hindsight, but he taught us that consistency is vital to contentment.
We knew what to expect from him, and that was beautiful. While I strive to embrace the whimsy of Bob Goff, the productivity of Michael Hyatt, and the fun of the Holderness family, I also hope that my family knows that they can rely on me, that my presence and my love is unwavering, just like Mr. Rogers.
2. The Beauty of Making Mistakes
Millennial parents have so much pressure placed on them from all sides. Instagram is pressuring us to be perfect, while baby boomers and professional Ted Talk speakers are shaming us for being “helicopter parents” or “lawnmower parents.” We are supposed to “prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child,” but are put on blast when a mistake happens that we didn’t catch. I will never forget the first day we felt this as a family. At lunch, a woman scoffed at me for giving my daughter a bottle, so my wife could eat. After this, my wife was reprimanded for breastfeeding our daughter, completely covered in a corner. At dinner that night, an old couple decided that they should comment from the next table about the singular French fry my daughter held in her hand. What none of these people knew is that my daughter had a severe allergy, and we had spent months working with her to gain weight, terrified to go in public for fear of glaring eyeballs while she was crying.
Mr. Rogers embraced mistakes. In one episode, he famously flubbed the words to “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” A military man, known for attention to detail, his crew prepared to shoot the scene again. But Mr. Rogers declined, telling his crew that it was important that children knew that even adults make mistakes. Mr. Rogers messed up countless crafts and projects but rolled with mistakes in a way that comforted us when we did too.
3. The Value of Relationships
At first glance, it might seem odd that a man who lived by himself on television could teach us so much about other people. Perhaps even more odd because most of the “people” on his show weren’t even human. However, I will never forget how Mr. Rogers always made time for others. When friends went through hard times, he put aside his task to spend time with them. He planned visits to them regularly. He always spoke to them with love and respect, even as society told him differently. I will never forget the episode with the swimming pool and Officer Clemmons, played by a gay, black man who was trained as an opera singer. I didn’t think much of it as a child in the early nineties, but my mom let me know why this episode was such a big deal. I just thought it was about being nice to community helpers, but in reality, when this episode was filmed in 1969, mixed racial swimming pools were still a pretty hot button issue across many parts of the country.
Mr. Rogers’ quiet act of defiance of simply putting his feet in the water with a black man taught children a big lesson on race relations, without being explicit. He spoke to this man as a friend, or rather as a neighbor. Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood had room for everybody, no matter your profession, gender, or race, and a cultural moment such as the one we are in 2019, I think we would all do well to remember that no matter our differences, everyone belongs in the neighborhood.