When you were five years old, who was your hero? What do you think of that person today?
My hero at the tender age of five was Mr. Fred Rogers.
I started kindergarten at 4, turning 5 in late October. According to my mother, I would rush home from my half-day of education to flop down in front of the television to watch the show. She would turn it on before she and my little brother left the house to meet me. Only afterwards would I eat lunch. This, I do not remember.
I do remember watching the show and that it made me feel safe, understood and encouraged. I thought Mr. Rogers knew everything there was to know in the world. The most memorable episodes were the interview about “pretend” with Margaret Hamilton of The Wizard of Oz fame, the opera episodes, and the conversations he had with me (us?) during the show. I really believed that he listened to me and that he genuinely cared for me.
The reason is that I had actually met him in person when I was 4 years old. I was attending a Head Start program which is just a fuzzy memory of finger painting and deciding to marry Richard “Love” Ayers who went on to be the star basketball player on my high school team – our marriage didn’t last through kindergarten. And one time Mr. Rogers and Lady Aberlin came to our school! He wore a sweater, he brought each of us soft 45 with his song on it and he talked with us. It seemed like forever!
Mr. Rogers was also my hero because he was so nice to his neighbors. I was learning about Catholicism at this point and I saw many parallels between Mr. Rogers and the Jesus I encountered – I had no idea Mr. Rogers was a minister. I also had no idea Jesus wasn’t a nice white minister!
Looking back, I find Mr. Rogers to be one of the few heroes who turned out to be exactly as I hoped. He was kind, courteous, smart and an advocate. He helped to save PBS, he stood up for children and he changed the world. I was very proud to be part of the community members who attended his memorial service at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall to form a barrier of love when the Westboro Baptist Church showed up.
Over the holidays, we had dinner with friends and their sons and nephew. We wore our brand spanking new Mr. Rogers tee shirts.
Imagine my shock when the older boys didn’t recognize him! That’s not good! Beyond being awesome, he was a tremendous advocate for children in LGBTQ families so I hope LGBTQ parents make the effort to expose their children to Mr. Rogers timeless programs.
Favorite character? Harriet Elizabeth Cow followed by Lady Elaine Fairchild – oh how I wanted to see the inside of the museum.