Article Overview:   Mr. Rogers is dead.   I salute his death as I might a war-buddy, as I might someone who dragged me out of a hail of bullets, brushed me off, patched up my wounds, and urged me to "hang in there."   The famous author of thousands of hours of children's shows became my "father mentor."  He taught me how to love when I didn't know quite how.  I'll miss him.


Friday--February 28, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 534
Why I Owe Fred Rogers A Kiss
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, Feb. 28--Mr. Rogers is dead.   Strangely, he's the only man I've ever been jealous of when it came to my children.   I scoffed at him until I caught my older daughter kissing his image on our television screen.   Then I began to take a second look at this "geeky character" with his array of neighborhood friends, and slowly realized he was a Father of Vigilance, teaching children how to feel safe from the Beast of Terror.

      It was over thirty years ago that I first met Fred McFeely Rogers.   Our introduction wasn't face to face.    It came through my first daughter, who at the time, was heading toward her second birthday.  Mr. Rogers, the daily television show for children from 2-6 years old, was new.  It had been on the air for only a couple of years, launching its first program in 1968, the same year in which my daughter was born.
       My wife worked as a hematologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California.   I was writing at the time, and took on the joyful task of raising our daughter in the morning.   My wife went to work about 4 a.m. and returned home at noon.    Then I went off to write.
      My job was to care for and entertain our older daughter each morning--get her breakfast, play school with her, and teach her.
      I had grown up in a family that was very dysfunctional, and had at an early age decided I was going to give my children the quality of love I felt I didn't receive.   I was pouring it out to my first daughter, spending each morning as a teacher-father, sculpting my daughter's mind and imagination as best I knew how.
      I had recently returned from Vietnam where I served as a United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondent.  I had more than 100 combat operations under my belt, and by most anyone's standards I was a "tough manly man."   At the same time, I had this soft spot in my heart for children, especially my own.   And I believed the precious commodity on earth was a child's mind, and his or her heart.  My mission was to fill my daughter's head and heart so full of love she would receive all that which I hadn't, plus a ton more.
       Sesame Street was a new children's program, based on learning interactives.   Prior to joining the Marine Corps I had been a senior in psychology at the University of Oregon, working in the behavioral learning fields and considering becoming a child psychologist.  I had a wealth of information about how to effect learning and used them all with my daughter.
      We would watch Sesame Street together.  I would interact with her when things were counted or the alphabet delivered by Jim Hensen's magical muppets..   I prided myself that she could count and knew her letters almost before she could walk.
       I have a rather large ego.  Some say that they didn't make doorways to fit the size of my head.    I have to agree with their take.   As far as I was concerned, I was the Great Mentor, the Master of Knowledge.    I was King of Learning, not only of the academic kind, but also of emotional love.    I was hell-bent on insuring my daughter would become the "richest of young women," filled with loving knowledge's and wisdoms I imparted.
       Then Mr. Rogers came along.
       He shoved himself between me and my daughter in a shocking way, one that forced me to step back and examine who was really in charge of my daughter's education.
       It happened one day when I was spinning the television dial looking for something after Sesame Street.    I saw the little trolley cars Mr. Rogers used to move around his neighborhood and a couple of puppets talking in trees.  It seemed inane enough, so I left it on while I washed the dishes, glancing into the living room to keep an eye on my daughter.
        I was drying the final dish thinking about which flash cards I was going to use to start her working on words when I glanced out and saw her kneeling in front of the television, kissing the image of Mr. Rogers!
        I heard her say:  "I love you Mr. Rogers!"

"I love you, Mister Rogers."

        My heart sank.
        I was being upstaged as the prime emotional bread winner by some skinny, unkempt guy with a pair of sneakers who spoke in a soft librarian's Voice, and was the farthest possible image from the "testosterone man" as any former Marine war vet could imagine.
        Part of me flew into a jealous rage. I wanted to rush to the television and scoop my daughter away and tell her never to watch that "weird man" again, but I checked myself.  Fortunately, I had enough wisdom to bite my lip and realize that a child's mind is a sponge, and that despite my prejudices that I wanted to be the sole provider of emotional training, my daughter had a right to chose her own friends, even at the earliest age, as long as those friends were seeking the same goal as I--the evolution of her being.
        That night I had a long talk with my wife about Mr. Rogers.   She was aware of him, and we had a pact that when it came to raising the children we would agree on everything.  She assured me Mr. Rogers was a healthy influence even though I secretly wanted her to excommunicate him as being a "geeky role model."   We laughed about my masculine insecurity ala Mr. Rogers and I went to bed that night dreading the next morning when I would be forced by own conscience to flip on Mr. Rogers again.   After all, my daughter had "fallen in love" with him.
        With a grimace, as though placing my hand over a hot flame and holding it there, I switched channels to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood  at the proper time.   My daughter's eyes ignited.  
        I grouched and sat back on the couch, folding my arms defiantly, as he strolled into the set, took off his shoes, put on his tennis shoes and sweater.   I laughed because he buttoned up his vest sweater the wrong way.  What a dork, I thought.  How could my daughter possibly see anything in this guy.
        But there she was, my sweet little girl starry eyed, staring into the face of Mr. Rogers with a glow about her as though he were some spiritual guru.  His Voice was gentle, caring, and he was talking to the camera lens with such childish imagination it seemed to me he was on some kind of drug that separated him from manhood to childhood.

"Mister Roger's" puppets

         Then there was the odd array of characters-- Lady Aberlin, Chef Brockett,  Officer Clemmons, Joe Negri owner of Negri's Music Shop; Handyman Negri, Mr. McFeely , Mrs. Paulifficate and Bob Dog.

The cast of "Mister Roger's Neighborhood"

         I wanted to gag.   Sesame Street was slick and articulate, and this show seemed corny and non-educational.   Where was the alphabet, I thought?   Where was the music?  The neat production quality?
          Slowly, I began to realize that what Fred Rogers was teaching children was love.   Over months and months of watching him, I broke through my own prejudices and ego to see a man who made children feel safe, secure, loved.
          Mr. Rogers taught me something I didn't quite know how to do.  He taught me how to be a "gentle friend" to my daughter.
         I knew how to be rough and tough, but gentle and soft--that I didn't know.
         Mr. Rogers applied sandpaper to my rough edges as a father.  He became role model of patience and quiet concern, of fallibility, of friendship.
          I have never had a man in my life I could look up to as a mentor-father.  The closest I can come to is Fred Rogers.
          Fred died on February 27, and many sadly see his passing as the end of a legacy.   Over three decades and some 1,700 shows, he provided millions of children worldwide a warm, loving example of parenting.   His shows were about making a child feel safe in his "neighborhood."  He signed off every program with the key words that I have made part of my role as a parent:  "You're a very special person, and I like you exactly as you are."

 (The following are examples of how Fred Rogers impacted his audiences)
      Have you had people who have touched you — not moved you in order to manipulate you — but touched you inside-to-inside? Take a minute to think of at least one person who helped you to become who you are inside today. Someone who was interested in you for who you really are...someone you feel really accepted the essence of your being. Just one minute to think of those who have made a real difference in your life.

You Are Special
Difficult Situations
Parents, Child-Care Providers, and Teachers
Growing in Adulthood

  Go to:  http:\\

      This salute to a child's being was enormously important to me.  It suggested that not only a child, but an adult, should not try to be somebody they are not.   They should let themselves evolve, and not try to fit themselves into personality straight jackets to appease everyone else.
         If there is one gift I wanted to give my children, it was individuality--the right to be their own persons despite any mould I might try to fit them in.
        Fred Rogers made all the children who watched his show special.  He loved their souls, their imaginations, their dreams.
        Today, my wife and I enjoy two beautiful daughters who are their own beings.   One is a social activist who works with disenfranchised and marginalized people.  She protests war and stands up for the underdogs in the world.  She recently earned her Masters in Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York.
        Our other daughter is opposite in many ways.  She is a federal special agent who carries two 9mm Glocks and daily hunts down criminals seeking to undermine the fabric of society.    I joke that I have two daughters, one of whom carries a gun and the other carries a cross.
        Each is special.   Each is exactly who they are.
        I have to thank Fred Rogers for teaching me to be a Parent of Vigilance.   In so many ways he shifted me away from trying to control my children's future to being a stimuli for their growth as "special people.

Vigilant Statesman, Fred Rogers

        After horrible events such as the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the Oklahoma City bombings, and the Nine Eleven attacks, Mr. Rogers went on the air to calm and soothe the troubled souls of the children.  He provided what many call a "safe house" for their hearts, and opened up his arms to hug them and remind them they were special, and to not be afraid. He made them feel understood. Through his puppets and the people in his neighborhood, he spoke not only to children but also to their parents and educators as well.
      If only the United Nations viewed his public television show and learned the value of his special neighborhood, perhaps the Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Guardians, Politicians, Statesmen of its membership would vote to provide the same kind of sanctuaries in their countries for all the Children's Children's Children.
      A Parent of Vigilance is one who teaches children to fight Fear with Courage, to overcome Courage, to overcome Intimidation with Conviction, and to drive away Complacency with Right Actions that benefit the Children's Children's Children
      Rogers was chairman of Family Communications, Inc. the nonprofit company that he formed in 1971 to produce Mister Roger's Neighborhood.  It diversified into non-broadcast materials that reflect his same philosophy and purpose: to encourage the healthy emotional growth of children and their families. Mister Roger's Neighborhood is the longest- running program on public television.

The child in me will miss Mr. Rogers

        Even though his body has passed from this earth, the wings of Fred Rogers flutter over the children.   I see him leading the Sentinels of Vigilance in their eternal quest to protect the children from Terrorism's harm.
        My child will miss him.   The little boy in me that needed to be told I was special just as I was can hear him whispering those words even now.
         Fred Rogers isn't gone.   He left us 3,000 episodes to pass on to our Children's Children's Children.   He left us the legacy of a Parent of Vigilance.
        I owe him a kiss.
     "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
      a beautiful day in this neighborhood...
      Won't you be my...won't you be my...
      won't you be my neighbor"?

                                                 * * * * * * * * * *
When asked why he devoted his life to children, Mr. Rogers's answer is typically direct and simple. "Well, the children become adults," he said. "That's the most important time with which we can nourish the future."
          Quote:  (Comment made by Fred Rogers after  a couple of college boys drove across country to meet the real Mr. Rogers)  "These kids give you such hope," he said.. "Maybe they realize that you don't have to be macho to be acceptable, and that everybody longs to be loved and feel that he or she is capable of loving. I would hope that is one of the major influences of the Neighborhood."
           Quote:   "The underlying message of the Neighborhood," says Mister Rogers, "is that if somebody cares about you, it's possible that you'll care about others. 'You are special, and so is your neighbor'—that part is essential: that you're not the only special person in the world. The person you happen to be with at the moment is loved, too."

Feb 27--Terrorism & The Lilliputians vs. Gulliver

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