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Mister Rogers is a guide to modern masculinity

Finn Wagner 

Staff Writer 

March 21, 2024

Another beautiful day - Mister Rogers would replace his suit jacket with a cardigan in each episode before calmly removing his shoes.

In a world growing ever more progressive,  many men have been dragged along and then dropped before a true identity could be discovered. Sitting between expectation and reality, these men have grown stagnant, and, unfortunately, a drastic uptick in uncompleted education, personal harm, and even suicide has occurred as a consequence. Questions fly: How have we gotten here? Where do we go now? Are men genetically predisposed to such vile realities? I will answer that last one: No.    


Put simply, men themselves are not the root of the problem, but, instead, the patriarchal pressures placed upon them create insecurities, uncertainties, conflict, and a sense of doom or failure. Tragically, within modern America, I can’t see any systemic change happening any time soon. So, my final question (this one I will attempt to answer): How can we (men) survive—and thrive—within the system as is, at least for the time being?

As are all things of worth, the battle is worth the fight - a long journey, a treacherous one too, forcing discomfort upon its venturers; but in the end, it will ultimately lead through the tunnel and into a brighter, happier future. Fortunately, some men have walked this path before,  though not perfectly, they can guide us as we progress together.

One such “leader of man” is Fred Rogers: a name that anyone born to parents who lived throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s has inevitably heard. He is described as “America’s modern saint” (a title he did not agree with, nor did he condone the use of, as he was a man of faith) for his patience displayed during his show. During the 31 seasons of the show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” he used proactive listening, a calm and welcoming demeanor, and his kind voice to create relationships with children and adults of all races, ethnicities, expressions, and backgrounds. 

While growing up, I remember listening to my Dad and Stepmom describing the show, (they were never huge fans but respected Mr. Rogers’ character— how couldn’t they?).  I never took an interest until I watched Marielle Heller’s 2019 film adaptation of his impact, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” The movie utilizes Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) as a supporting character, just as he was in so many people’s childhoods, who enables the true protagonist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), to navigate his emotions, rebuild connections with his distant father, and become a great dad to his baby boy.

Now admittedly, the movie is flawed, and at times even corny. When boiled down, it is essentially a “call-to-action” film hoping to get the viewer to pick up the cell phone to call that Pops who’s not been spoken with in years but that emotional bait can be tolerated and overlooked for the surprisingly decent cinematography, great acting, and above-average story. 

The movie-goer follows Lloyd through his journey to become a good father, and consequently, I would argue, a good man; as well, I would argue, this is what it means, definitionally, to be a man. To be a man in modernity is to be welcoming and loving to those around you (abstract I know, but hear me out). As the world violently sweeps us off our feet as progress floods the streets around us, we must abandon the stagnation of the past in hopes of a fluid, happy future for our children, partners, and selves. 

Mister Rogers preaches kindness and acceptance to Lloyd, who needs to live through these virtues if he hopes to break the cyclical nature of parental abandonment. Before Rogers, he is distant to his wife and child, valuing work above all else. This is not so different, emotionally, at least, from his father's actions towards Lloyd and his family. While his mother was dying in the hospital, Lloyd’s father left her (actually he was kicked out for having too many mistresses), ultimately abandoning his children to deal with the hardships and grief. Obviously, Lloyd was unable to “get over it” on his own, and until Mr. Rogers’ virtuous guidance, he never tried. 

The film’s main men are unique caricatures of men seen today. Mr. Rogers lives his life as an integrity-filled man who shares wisdom with those younger. Lloyd has reached a blockage, unsure who to trust, where to go next, and how to do any of it. Yet, at this juncture in life, his father Jerry Vogel lives with regret for the way he treated himself and his loved ones (more easily stated, the man you don’t want to be). 

It is rather easy for me to sit back and claim I am the Mister Rogers type, but that would be irreconcilably far from the truth. With complete honesty, none of us will be a Fred Rogers and an attempt at self-comparison to him would leave a man more lost than before. Thankfully, a man is not expected to be Rogers, but instead to be Lloyd. We must fall in love with the world around us—the way the trees’ leaves fall gently during Autumn, the smiles of children running to their loved ones, or the yearning feeling when you see the ones you adore most. Rogers, then Lloyd, fell in love with what it meant to be human, and there, I argue, a man will not just survive, but through that love, he can learn to thrive.

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