Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

I watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was little. As a child of the 1970s, I can recall sitting our family room in front of a television (one that you tuned by turning knobs and for which an occasional visit from a television repairman was required) watching Sesame Street, Electric Company, and, of course, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It was delightful, therefore, to read Maxwell King’s biography of Fred Rogers, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

I was surprised to learn things about Fred Rogers that I never knew: he came from a wealthy family, with a strong sense of giving back to the community; he was musically gifted; he attended Dartmouth for a time. He was an almost unwilling celebrity, and nearly everyone who knew him said that he really was like the way he was on his television program. Kids were not seeing a persona, but the real man. It was amazing to learn all of the people he influenced over the years. David McCullough–author of my favorite biography, John Adams–has called Fred Rogers the greatest teacher of the 20th century.

I’ve sat here for several minutes trying to recall what I thought of the show when I was three or four years old, but the memories are vague and blurry. I can remember watching the show. I can remember being a little afraid of some of the puppets on the show. But I also remember I loved the trolley.

King’s book talks about how Rogers deliberately slowed down the pace of his show, taking his time, because he was concerned about the programming kids were getting, everything so face-paced. Things have only gotten faster. My own kids watched shows like Chuggington and Cayou when they were very little. They never got into Sesame Street. About the closest any of my kids came to Mister Rogers was my youngest daughter, now 2-1/2 years old, who loves Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

When I read something, I often take notes, jotting things in the margins, or copying passages into my journal/commonplace book. I try to apply what I learn from my reading in practical ways. After finishing The Good Neighbor, I had a desire to do that. My kids are all of a generation where videos need to be fast-paced to grab attention. I wondered what it would be like for them to sit down and watch an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Could they even sit through one?

I doubted my older kids could, but yesterday afternoon, I took my 2-year-old upstairs and we put on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1971. Then I sat back and waited to see if she’d tolerate it.

She loved it. She recognized some of the songs, of course, from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. She was a little perplexed to see the Daniel Tiger puppet–which doesn’t much resemble the cartoon character. But she followed along with the program just fine. I watched the show, too, flashing back to my own youth, but also keeping an eye on my daughter’s delight.

This morning, after we took the older kids to school, my youngest said, “Daddy, can I watch a show when we get home?” This is her usual question after drop-off.

I had to work so I told her she could watch a show until her nanny arrived. “What do you want to watch?”

I expected her to saySuper Why or Daniel Tiger, or “YouTube!” What she said was, “Can I watch Mr. Rogers?”

It made me feel that I had some how leveled up on this whole parenting thing.

Published by Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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1 Comment

  1. Hey, Jamie! I happen to have just finished reading the King book as well. What a delight it was! Well-researched and I certlainly learned so much about Fred Rogers! So many fascinating vignettes in the book about him, his family, and the show that touched so many generations.

    I found out Lavar Burton narrates the audiobook so I got it for my next long road trip for work!

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