Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The greatness of a man

I've always wanted to know more about Fred Rogers. Who was the man behind Mister Rogers? I certainly loved watching his show when I was a child. Later, I learned of the deeper extent of his advocacy for the education and welfare of children. So when I saw this book at the library, I immediately wanted to know why this man was so special. Well, as I found out, he just was.

I'm Proud of You was written by a newspaper reporter named Tim Madigan, who interviewed Fred Rogers for The Fort-Worth Star Telegram, and from what I can gather, is a very wonderful man. Soon the two became very close friends, sharing a lot of their inner selves and spirituality. I would like to share an exerpt from the book.

Life seems so gray. Don't know what to do. Want to go back to sleep and sleep the rest of the day. Hide from the world. But instead of hiding from the world, I wrote newspaper stories, prayed every day for relief, talked to a therapist, and took my medicine. Eventually, I also did something else. Whether it was an act of inspiration, desperation, or a combination of the two, I will never be sure. But I decided to write to my friend in Pittsburgh and tell him the difficult truth of my life.

My letter, dated June 22, 1996, began by thanking Fred for his friendship, and telling him of my plans for the summer. Those plans, I said, included writing a story about the religious faith of Johnny Oates, the manager of the Texas Rangers baseball team; a trip to Minnesota for my twentieth high school reunion; a long weekend in New York with my wife; and a solo camping excursion to Colorado sometime in August.

The purpose of this letter, however, is not to bring you up-to-date on the details of my life, though I'm very glad to do so. The purpose, Fred, is that I have something to ask of you.

The last several years have been a very profound time of intense personal pain and great healing, a time of great self-discovery as I've tried to come to terms with the realities of my life, past and present. At the forefront of my mind and soul right now is how hard I tried to get my dad to be proud of me, through sports, through school, through the way I tried to be obedient and good. But no matter what I did, it never seemed enough. I could never wrest from him the love and sense of acceptance that I so desperately craved as a child, and have been craving ever since.

I realize now that God is the ultimate source for that kind of love and acceptance. But I have also realized that I have gravitated toward older men in my life, without really knowing why. Now I think I know. Hal Thomas, for one, was an older man who loved me without restraint or without condition. In short, I think Hal was proud of me, not for what I did, but for the person I was, because I was enough of a person to have a capacity for friendship.

Hal was proud of me. How terribly important to me I now realize that is. I read Henri Nouwen this morning, and several chapters in the book of Matthew, and meditated for a long time on my pain, and realized what I need to do. It is this. There are several men older than me who have become very important in my life. And one by one I plan to ask them this. "Will you be proud of me?"

That is the question I have of you this morning, Fred. Will you be proud of me? It would mean a great deal to me if you would. I have come to love you in a very special way. In your letters, and during our brief time together in Pittsburgh, you have done so much to teach me how to be a person and a man. And now I have this favor to ask of you.

Will you be proud of me?

As I sit this morning, I grapple with inner pain, but I also feel the gentle guiding hand of God in mine. My life has taken on a depth, and a beauty that years ago I never would have believed possible.

I hope this letter finds you, your family and friends well and happy.

With much love and gratitude,

I cringe when reading those words now, marveling that a man soon to be forty years old could be so childlike and vulnerable, particularly with another man. I've shared my insides with many other trusted mentors over the years, but never with such a lack of restraint. Despite what I told Fred in that letter, it was the only time I would openly make that request of another man. That I did so with Fred was a measure of my intuitive faith in his goodness, and I fully expected a kind and compassionate reply. What I did not expect was the letter from Fred that, as much as any therapy or medication, set me on the road to true healing.

July 1, 1996

Dear Tim,
The answer to your question is


a resounding YES...

I will be proud of you. I am proud of you. I have been proud of you since first we met. I'm deeply touched that you would offer so much of yourself to me, and look forward to knowing all that you would care to share in the future. Nothing you could tell me could change my YES for you. Please remember that.

You are the only person who has come for an interview who came to church with me. I wonder if you realize how special you really are!? Your place in this life is unique - absolutely unique. I feel blessed to be one of your friends. Only God can arrange such mutually trusting relationships - for sure! For sure!!

YES, Tim, YES.


From that time until his death seven years later, in almost every one of the scores of letters and e-mail messages he sent, my friend signed off with IPOY (I'm Proud of You) an acronym that is forever stamped on my heart.


Jess said...

I started trying to learn a little more about Mr. Rogers when Jaden started watching his show with great rapture. If only I'd remember to TiVo it more often. I was simply amazed to learn that each character on the show represented a different facet of a child. It blew my mind. Fred Rogers was an incredible man and what a feeble understatement that is.

missmobtown said...

Act One. Mr. Rothbart's Neighborhood.