Mr. Rogers Neighborhood

I received another email from my Dad. They come with some regularity now. He and my Mom have moved into assisted living and to say he is having trouble adjusting is a bit of an understatement. His messages are disjointed, angry and complaining. My sister and I have decided it’s best to just let him vent and not respond.

This one, however, closed with a request that I call him, so I did. The minute he answered, it was on. He was full of vitriol, lashing out and screaming at me about various things letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that I was the cause of the current state of his life and his unhappiness. When we finally hung up, I stood in my kitchen, shaken.

Intellectually, I know he’s in a state of mental decline and he’s not the person he once was, but it still stung.

I turned back to my computer and found it was the 17th anniversary of Mr. Rogers death. I looked at his photo and read the accompanying article feeling somehow soothed and remembering him fondly. You might think of him as the epitome of nerdy with his sweaters and puppets and “Won’t you be my neighbor “ song, but I could use a little Fred Rogers right now – a bit of chicken soup for the soul.

A woman I am close to has often said that he made all the difference in her life, as a child. She grew up in a house where terrible arguments and physical violence were a regular occurrence. She characterizes her childhood as walking on eggshells and recalls spending a good portion of her time hiding under the bed or in her closet when the fighting began so as to become invisible and not get sucked into the vortex of violence. There were no “I love you’s”, hugs, kisses, bedtime stories, “I’m proud of you’s”, or compliments of any kind. She spent years counting the days until she could leave.

But there was Mr. Rogers – calm, steady, reassuring. He said things like “You are special” and “I like you just the way you are”. She grabbed onto the buoy of his soft voice and held on with white knuckles until she finally moved out. He made all the difference for her and, I suspect, so many other children at that time.

I close my computer, still hearing the echo of my father’s angry words, and go upstairs to put on my comfy lounging clothes and slippers. I build a fire and then set to work chopping chunks of chicken and vegetables, listening to the rhythmic thunk, thunk, thunk of my blade on the cutting board – the sound, a balm of sorts. Before long, there is a pot of chicken soup simmering on the stove. My faithful dog is more than willing to get cozy on the couch with me while I wait for the soup to be done and Mr. Rogers’ theme song floats through my head as the lovely smell of soup and crunchy French bread permeate the air. I inhale deeply and let it out with a rush thinking maybe I’ll name my next dog Fred.


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