My Friendship with Fred Rogers
Reviewed June 18, 2007.
Gotham Books, New York, 2006. 196 pages.
2006 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1, True Stories
What an amazing man Mr. Rogers was! This book tells how a newspaper interview led Tim Madigan to one of the deepest friendships of his life.
Mr. Rogers, famous to children for generations, is every bit as kind and loving a person as he appears on TV. Tim Madigan says of him:
In my opinion, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood revealed only a fraction of his human greatness. Knowing him from television alone, it was tempting to see him as a man who might actually live in Neighborhood of Make-Believe. . . a person of epic goodness, no doubt, but also a man of innocence and naïveté, who, as a result, might be little acquainted with the grittier realities of life (though his program dealt unflinchingly with issues like divorce, death, and violence). . . .
There was innocence about Fred in person, to be sure. He could be quaint, such as when he referred to me as “my dear.” He was a vegetarian who would never eat “anything that had a mother.” He wore a goofy-looking swimming cap and goggles for his daily morning swims. He forever carried a camera, pulling it out with great delight to photograph people he had met for the first time.
But he was also a man fully of this world, deeply aware of and engaged in its difficulties, speaking often of death, disease, divorce, addiction, and cruelty and the agonies those things wrought on people he loved. He worked very hard, a lifelong student of children and child development. . . . An ordained Presbyterian minister, he devoured books by the great spiritual writers and was constantly preoccupied with spiritual questions himself. He rose before six each morning to pray for dozens of people by name. He was perhaps the most intelligent person I’ve ever known.
But in my mind, something else was at the heart of his greatness. It was his unique capacity for relationship, what Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod once called “a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy.” That was true with almost every person he met, be it television’s Katie Couric or a New York City cabdriver; the Dalai Lama or the fellow handing out towels at the health club where Fred went to swim. Fred wanted to know the truth of your life, the nature of your insides, and had room enough in his own spirit to embrace without judgment whatever that truth might be.
By the end of the book, the reader is also convinced. Tim Madigan tells about some of the hardest years of his life, and how his friendship with Fred Rogers sustained him and his family through them. His life was changed by being so freely and unconditionally loved, and reading this book has touched my life as well.
If you want to learn about a human example of unconditional love in action, I strongly recommend this book.