To be a man, to be Mr. Rogers

Image from Relevant Magazine.

What is it to be a man?

This morning my regular email from “Now I Know” concerned Friday the 13th and Mr. Rogers, and how Fred Rogers deliberately made Friday the 13th a celebration for King Friday XIII because he didn’t want children to be afraid of Friday the 13th (as, frankly, I am – a little – because these kinds of irrationalities become part of the culture and it’s easy to attribute bad luck to the fact that, hey, it’s Friday the 13th, what do you expect?). And that got me thinking about Fred Rogers, so soft, so easy to mock, and I got on the Internet and the first thing I found was his acceptance speech at the 1997 Emmys for a lifetime achievement award.

Somehow, Mr. Rogers, whom I remember laughing at when I was a little kid – because he was talking to really little kids, not cynical mature kids like me! – managed to reduce an entire auditorium of adults to tears merely by asking for 10 seconds of silence. We all have someone to thank, he said. Won’t you give thanks?

Men – and women, too, I assume – grow up with the lesson that to be a man is to be hard. Maybe the lesson isn’t imparted directly, because many families honor grace and gratitude and emotion, but it’s certainly in the wider culture, in movies and TV and in the music we hear every day. Men don’t cry; men laugh at pain; men look out for number one and defend their rights and, at least in action films (which, of course, are aimed at men or men-to-be), respond to threats with guns and violence. Death is brushed off with no more thought than a bathroom break.

To do otherwise just isn’t manly.

I found this long story about Fred Rogers, written by Tom Junod for Esquire in 1998 (and if this blog entry has some of the elongated rhythms of the story it’s because, well, Tom Junod is a good writer to copy), and it’s about how Fred Rogers is a man and yet true to his soft, grateful self. And I wonder: How can we honor Fred Rogers and still be a man in these hard, angry times?

Also, there’s this: the Esquire with Fred Rogers on the cover was the worst-selling issue of David Granger’s 19-year tenure as editor.

I wonder about that, too.


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