After an assignment led newspaper journalist Tim Madigan to Mister Rogers, the friendship that ensued with the beloved children’s TV icon greatly influenced Madigan’s life.
In his new book, “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship With Fred Rogers,” Madigan recounts a bond the two men developed that helped him deal with a crisis in his marriage, his battle with depression and his brother’s diagnosis of incurable lung cancer.
Their friendship began with a phone interview in 1995 for a story he was working on for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about violence on television and continued until Rogers’ death of stomach cancer in February 2003.
Last summer, Madigan decided it was time to write about what Rogers had meant to him.
“It just kind of poured out of me,” said Madigan, who has been a reporter at the Star-Telegram for 22 years and has written two other books. “It was one of the easiest writing jobs I’ve ever had.”
The book, which came out in August, gives readers a glimpse of Rogers in an adult context, showing the inherent goodness of the man whose public television show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” entertained and educated children for more than 30 years.
“The world is full of the examples of evil, but he was an example of the power of goodness,” said Madigan, 48.
Rare book about male friendshipBesides being an inside look at Rogers, it is also a book about a male friendship, said Erin Moore, senior editor at Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA.
“What we don’t see a lot of in this business is thoughtful books about friendship among men,” said Moore, who edited the book. “Tim and Fred Rogers were just so completely open to one another.
“What I got out of it was the feeling that ... when you interact with other people and you show compassion and you’re truly present to what they’re feeling at that time ... that is a great gift and that’s something that we don’t do enough.”
During their first in-person interview, Rogers told Madigan about his grief following the death of a close friend. “You’re ministering to me, Tim,” he told Madigan. “By listening, you minister to me.”
That Sunday morning, Rogers invited Madigan to attend church with him. Afterward, Rogers gave Madigan a hug and told him, “I’m really glad to be your friend.”
The title of the book comes from a June 1996 e-mail in which Madigan told Rogers about his desire to make his often-distant father proud of him.
“That is the question I have of you this morning, Fred. Will you be proud of me? It would mean a great deal to me if you would,” he wrote.
Rogers responded with “YES” and a letter full of encouragement.
“Never before or since have I been so childlike,” said Madigan, who with Rogers’ help healed his relationship with his father.
To tell the story of his friendship with Rogers, Madigan knew he would have to also write about his own most personal moments.
“It was absolutely terrifying, but that was the inner essence of our friendship in the early years and I knew that if I was going to write the book, I had to be honest about that stuff,” he said.
Madigan, who grew up in Minnesota and attended the University of North Dakota, said that his story shows that you can get through the hard times.
“My life is extremely happy right now,” he said.