I spend a lot of time watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood–I have two kids–I’m not objecting though. I might be upset if I had to watch something like Spongebob, but that show is both ugly and insipid. I would be upset if I had to watch it even once. Contrariwise, I’m largely content to watch as much Mister Rogers as my daughter (who is the driving force behind this phenomenon) wants.
One of her current favorite episodes features a beautiful duet between Daniel Striped Tiger and Lady Aberline. I can’t possibly do justice to it by trying to describe it. Also, if you don’t know who the characters I just mentioned are, it’s okay. They’re not actually crucial to the story.
Either way, the crux of the issue that the two sing about is that Daniel Tiger is feeling insecure. Lady Aberline assures him that though he’s different from everyone else, he’s okay. Subsequently, Mister Rogers applies the same to his viewing audience, which happens to include me fairly regularly.
Now, as in currently, diversity is fairly popular. Or at least people talk about it as though it were popular and try to convince us that it is popular. I’m willing to buy the hype and believe them, although some part of my brain has reservations that they’re being insincere. Difference seems to be involved in diversity, so in this way Mister Rogers was saying something that the world very much wants to approve. More on that in a moment.
Any sort of art is the interaction of distinct and irreducible things, or insoluble things, or things which are separate and can’t be made into one unified thing. At the very least there’s the art itself, and the person who experiences it. I am not, so far as I know, the episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood that I watched.
Oh, I could talk about that claim for a long time. I’ll foreshadow later discussions by saying that I believe I’m not the episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood because I’m Christian. For the moment though, back to me watching television.
The me who was watching Mister Rogers happened (as it frequently has lately) to be thinking about fatherhood. Fatherhood is one of those topics about which the people talk, and about which I know they’re being insincere. We spend a lot of time talking about how fathers are important, about how being a father is more complicated than merely begetting children, and even about how society without fathers is full of things like crime. But we don’t mean any of it. I know we don’t mean any of it because we spend even more time talking about how men and women ought to be treated the same.
The two ideas are irreconcilable. If men and women ought to be treated the same, then there’s no reason to say that women can’t be fathers just as effectively as men can. Or rather, to use different terminology, there’s no way to say that fathers provide anything that mothers don’t, except perhaps an increase in quantity of parents, which could as effectively be provided by having groups of mothers live together. In any event, if men and women ought to be treated the same, then fathers are irrelevant, or at best a luxury, like having a second car.
But I’ve gone rather far afield. I tend to think fathers are important, again because I’m Christian. The issue is rather more practical: What are they important for? Or perhaps, how does that importance manifest?
This is where the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood duet enters to discussion again. As I’m thinking about the qualities and requirements of fatherhood–the standard against which those men with children are measured–I’m reminded that everyone is different. Diversity makes standards difficult. (If you don’t believe me, ask a teacher.) Not just more difficult to discern, but more difficult to implement. They can seem like injustice. While many might be gifted in one area such that the relevant portion of the standard comes easily, what about the people who not only aren’t gifted in that way but even struggle in that area?
My culture is inclined to abolish standards rather than deal with the difficulty. We do it all the time.
Being a Christian though, I can’t. It wouldn’t be faithful. Also, because I believe in a good God, I believe that being unfaithful to him would also be unhelpful. Like biting the hand that feeds, only described in some way as to avoid the cliché.
So I’m left with these two ideas: the belief that there’s a specific, important, objective thing called fatherhood; and the belief that the men who attempt it are all different, and that those differences are good.
But now I’m out of time, so more on this tomorrow perhaps.