A couple weeks ago, I was having dinner with my mother and daughter. As the father of 4 children, it’s a rare treat to be able to give just one of your children the singular attention they need, and this was one of those times. Rosie (my daughter’s nickname) loves sushi so we decided to hit her favorite sushi place in Monroeville and enjoy a quiet dinner. Things were as expected… my mother was the center of attention, and so was Rosie. Ok… maybe not quite in that order, but I was just window-dressing, as usual… and loving it. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch your parents interact with your children over a nice meal in a warm place (a restaurant or home), it can be rewarding… as long as you stay out of the way.
Just as we were reading our fortunes to one another, and I had requested the check, my mother took the conversation in an unexpected direction. “Son,” she says… “You know ‘A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood‘ is coming out next week.” I froze like a deer in headlights. Was she asking ME to go with her? Really? I’m 49 years old. I quit watching Mr. Rogers with my mother 40 years ago. It wasn’t the first time my mother left me speechless, and it won’t be the last, but I had nothing to say. Thinking quickly and compassionately, I said something like “There’s no way I’m going to see that movie with you Mom. You’ll want to hold my hand or something!”. Instantly I realized that Mr. Rogers wouldn’t have thought that response appropriate, and I felt guilty. Not to mention the fact that my mom’s smile had disappeared, and Rosie was looking at me with that “Oh my gosh, Dad” face… I changed direction, forced a smile, and immediately said “Ok… of course I’ll go see it with you, mom. But I’m still not holding your hand.” Problem solved. Now all I have to do is hope she forgets, or be too busy, or get tuberculosis… or something.
Fast forward to November 22nd (release date for “It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)… I wake up, thinking about the usual things… work, updating Pittsburgh Beautiful, cleaning out the garage (I’ll wait until March for that), I need coffee, what’s that smell in the foyer (we have 3 dogs and 3 cats, so that’s normal)… and then… OH NO… It’s Mr. Rogers Movie Day… how do I avoid this? I swear this is exactly what happened at that moment… my mother text me that she was picking up Rosie again for dinner, and asked if we could all meet at the same sushi place in Monroeville. Ok. I’m in. I love these dinners. At least she didn’t mention the Mr. Rogers movie.
Dinner was, again, as expected. This time, however, my wife and her daughter were there. As I was looking around the table and feeling so proud of the family we’ve built together and so blessed to have these moments, I realized in horror (ok… I’m being a little dramatic here)… that this was a trap. Gosh, my mom is sooooo good. How could I say “no”? That helpless feeling began to sink in and my General Tso’s was not quite as delicious as it had been before.
Think “slow motion instant replay” here… fortunes told, check requested… here it comes… “Son… would you be able to take Rosie home tomorrow, a little later than usual?” Of course I’d be happy to… phew! “and…” here’s where everything slows down… “I thought we could take her to see ‘It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ tomorrow”… CRASH. There it was. The hook, the bait and the catch. All in one. She IS a genius. “Sure mom. I’ll get the tickets. Rosie, do you even know who Mr. Rogers was?” “Yeah, dad. I’ve seen some things about him on YouTube.” YOUTUBE?? Now… I will admit to being a sort-of-YouTube-junkie. Like when I want to sharpen my lawn mower blades or build a dog pen… or something like that. “Ok, Rosie… well you’ll learn all about him tomorrow.” Now… I was proud of myself. I was giving my mom what she wanted, and going to show my 14 year old daughter a movie that might help her learn a little bit more about how to be a good person, because that’s what Mr. Rogers was, right? And now, that’s what I was being. A good person.
I started this post as a “Review of ‘It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ movie”. That was my intention. We saw the movie yesterday. I was going to post this last night. At least that’s what I thought as I walked into the theater, pop and popcorn in hand. My mom on my left, my daughter Rosie on my right and a theater full of Pittsburghers ready to relive our past and watch Tom Hanks play Mr. Rogers as only Tom Hanks can do.
The show opens much like “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” did all those years ago. He walks in the front door, singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, takes off his jacket, puts on his sweater, takes off his shoes, puts on his sneakers, tells you you’re special and begins…
That’s when I felt the tears running down both sides of my face. I hate to admit it… but I feel them coming back as I’m typing this post. But why? Seriously… I had to think. And think I did. The entire movie. And after. And on the 40 minute ride to drop my daughter off at her mother’s house. And during dinner last evening with my wife, and our entire shopping trip at Ross Park Mall. And last night at home, while I caught up on some work. And as I fell asleep.
You see… I realized during the entire movie that Mr. Rogers didn’t want notoriety. He didn’t seek fame or fortune. He didn’t want to “change the world”. He didn’t need money. He didn’t need recognition. He needed to love. He wanted to love. He wanted to be the best darn person that he could possibly be, and he realized that was the challenge the universe set out for him. He realized that in order to be that “best person”, he had to hold himself to a standard that only HE could set. And he would set that standard for himself, and no one else. Why would he do that? Didn’t he want to spread a message of hope, love, understanding and acceptance to everyone and everybody (especially children)?
Of course. Mr. Rogers realized something very important. In order to do that, he had to love himself just the way God intended. He had to challenge himself, every day, to put others ahead of him. To spread understanding and compassion around him, so that it would come back to him. To deal with his feelings in a way that would not destroy him inwardly, and a way that would show everyone he touched that, no matter what, your feelings matter, too. I’m not going to spoil the movie for you if you haven’t seen it. This is not the “review” I intended to write. But as I sit here, tears streaming down my face, I realize that they are not tears of sadness yearning for my childhood… they are tears of joy in the realization that Mr. Rogers DID teach me something. About myself. No matter how old you are, no matter what your story is, no matter how sad or mad or happy or glad you feel, you are special… especially if you can make those around you feel special about themselves.