Every morning, a small Candice would stare up at the wood-framed console television that her great-grandparents had in their living room just to spend time with some older gentlemen. One had this soft cardigan sweater and delightful lace-up Keds, singing quietly about all sorts of things that were never talked about as often as they should have been and in the most supportive tone. The other had this crop of fuzzy cocoa hair that looked like a brown, wispy cotton ball atop the happiest face, eagerly engaging her childlike sensibilities while he painted.
It was so calm and nurturing for a child like me. These two men were staples all through my childhood and as the programming became scarce and animated series about aardvarks, big red dogs, and such were starting to become more ubiquitous, those faces started easing away from view. The landscape changed and I grew older, but the feeling that came whenever I would hear the soft chime of the trolley as it rounded Fred Rogers’ little cushioned nook was unmistakable.
That was home.
When Bob Ross would use his brush to dance paint onto a canvas and quietly talk about his thoughts, the small child version of me would lay down and listen, absolutely rapt. My great-grandpa would sit down behind me in his green rocking chair and we’d watch together in silence until something would happen to inspire words. Those three men were what I grew up to idolize as male figures and, because of their softness, their vast wealth of love and appreciation of the human condition.
You didn’t look at Bob Ross as an artistic genius because his paintings were not anything at which you would look twice. They were well-done and technically flawless, but that wasn’t what it was about when you tuned in, was it? No, it was to watch this man find his center and share it with you, urging you to pick up a paintbrush and indulge in the soothing silence of expressing yourself while he shared his philosophies. As a child, I never thought to paint alongside him, but I did quietly palm my chin and listen. He had such wisdom and from a place that seemed natural; it was the most calming thing you could ever ask for. I can still watch Bob Ross reruns today and curl up in a ball, smiling at the television as if I’m six years old all over again.
Fred Rogers was like being wrapped in a warm blanket and given hot cocoa in the middle of a blizzard. Life could be so chaotic all around me and the world could be changing at such frenetic rates and all it would take was turning on the television in the morning — watching that man tie his shoes and tell me it was okay to be scared — for me to breathe in deeply again. I would listen to the stories he would tell and he’d take his viewers on adventures through the everyday life of his neighborhood, all the while turning to the camera and speaking to me quietly.
It’s all going to be okay.
When I lost my great-grandpa, he was the third to go and, as an adult, I had finally lost the three male figures in my life who were ideal. They stood for something that was rich and meaningful, complete and creative, and always nurturing, supportive, and honest. It felt like the end of an era that was now replaced with the ADD lifestyle of reality television, bright lights, and pregnant teenagers on camera. Where would Mr. Rogers fit in now? What kind of audience, other than the people who grew up like I did, would watch Bob Ross these days? Losing that soft-voiced safety net is what drove me away from the majority of television and it made me realize just how much I wanted to find that safe place again.
When PBS released these “remixes” of its shows and its hosts, they latched onto my heart in such a profound and intense way that I had to share them. We don’t hold these men up like we should and there are so many — and I’m sure many of you know of them — who were good, strong, and yet gentle influences. We seem to so quickly talk about the monsters that we witnessed growing up, but what about the soft-spoken men who just wanted to watch the world grow?
Both Bob Ross and Fred Rogers were like fathers to me; they were beautiful humans. They easily taught me that we’re more than just marching ants through life and we’re capable of so much. Who did you look up to? Who, be they male or female, did you look to in order to find guidance? Maybe one day in the future we’ll see a call to arms for the children we’re raising, not a surrogate parent role, but a support figure who helps teach our kids the importance of patience, love, and values.