Another journeyman writer details the teaching and inspiration he received at the feet of a wise and kindly mentor. Move over, Morrie and Father Joe.
This time, the dispenser of sympathetic understanding is the operator of his very own eponymous TV neighborhood: the late Fred Rogers (1928–2003), whose testament is herein reverentially reported. Disciple Madigan (The Burning, 2001, etc.) is, as he reminds us a few times, a prizewinning journalist. His book takes its title from the words with which Mr. Rogers usually signed off his letters to Madigan after a missive early in their relationship in which the troubled younger man asked for this reassurance. The author is a soulful, pious man who survived marital difficulties and the death of a brother with the guidance and friendship of Rogers, who was undeniably a kindly, good man. Madigan certainly makes sure we appreciate that fundamental fact. “Because of the pitch-perfect love of his letters,” he writes in a not-untypical passage, “it sometimes seemed . . . that I was corresponding with God himself. (My wife would come to believe that Fred was actually Jesus, reincarnate.)” But Rogers was by all reports an intelligent and complex man, with more to him than the “celestial font of affirmation” we find here. He deserves better than a paean larded with snippets of correspondence, extracts from Madigan’s newspaper pieces and a general endorsement of love, family, friendship, religion and the thoughts of the Little Prince. It may be therapy for the author, but it does no particular service to Mr. Rogers.
For those who consider life’s lessons best expressed in padded greeting cards and “the Gospel According to Elbert Hubbard.”