Inspired by a recent article about Mister Rogers, Christian Clifton shares his thoughts on the importance of role models.
In a recent article for Esquire magazine Tom Ford writes of his personal connection to Fred Rogers, most of us remember him as simply Mister Rogers, and recounts a few special moments the two shared. Ford speaks of him as if he existed just outside of our own reality, seeing the world as something of pure beauty that deserved every ounce of awe one could muster. Ford treats him not as a celebrity but as a man to look up to, and I think this treatment is perfectly befitting of the man that holds a place in the memories of so many.
Role models have such power in the formative years of young men. Through contact and action boys learn both consciously and subconsciously from those around them, especially from any adults that are willing to pour into them. A role model can change the life of a young boy, even if the only thing he/she does is care.
Not having a male role model can have some devastating consequences , I talk about this more in my letter Dear Dad, so I speak with firsthand knowledge that the pool of possible male role models extends far beyond the family tree. I sought out plenty of male figures to fill a hole in my soul, and characters on television where not excluded from this hunt. Obviously Mister Rogers filled in a part of that hole and his portion in my raising was solidified as I grew older and learned that in real life he was the same man he was on the screen.
Ford mentions this consistency with which Mister Rogers lived his life in something a bit more quantifiable;
“He was stepping in front of the camera as Mister Rogers, and he wanted to do things right, and whatever he did right, he wanted to repeat. And so, once upon a time, Fred Rogers took off his jacket and put on a sweater his mother had made him, a cardigan with a zipper. Then he took off his shoes and put on a pair of navy-blue canvas boating sneakers. He did the same thing the next day, and then the next…until he had done the same things, those things, 865 times, at the beginning of 865 television programs, over a span of thirty one years.”
This trait, being consistent, is something that Mister Rogers lived and breathed far outside of his famous routine. It also just so happens to be one of the most important traits a young boy needs in a role model. Looking back at my youth, and being immersed in the lives of many teens today as a teacher, I have realized that a year of consistency can be undone with a single moment of faltering. Kids need regularity from a role model; in behavior, words, actions, consequences, and most of all love.
Mister Rogers loved children, and not in the “give them everything they want” way but rather in the “give them what they NEED” way. Ford mentions an interaction he witnessed between a young boy wearing armor and carrying a sword and Mister Rogers in which he said this to the young boy;
“Do you know that you’re strong on the inside, too?'”
And later commented that
“Maybe it was something he needed to hear”.
How earth shattering is that to our stereotypical idea of what a future man should hear? Rogers knew that boys often play soldier to imitate being strong or brave, and wanted to cut through that to remind this particular kid that outer strength is only part of the picture. I now look forward to the day when I can us this quote in the lives of one of my students and remind them that there is so much more to a person than what we can see.
Mister Rogers was a role model to thousands upon thousands of young boys and girls during his time as host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Through him we all learned to share, and be kind, and have a never ending amount of wonder about the world around us. His show could be called bland if compared to the myriad of special effects and CGI that fills children’s entertainment today, but it had a hint magic that the highest budget will never be able to buy.
Rogers was more than an entertainer for he was brimming with love for the world around him and he shared this love with as many others as he could, something anyone with the title “role model” would do well to remember. We may miss being his neighbor, but Mister Rogers is our friend and he is special.
Read Tom Ford’s Original Article: Can You Say…Hero?