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The Captain Cared About Kids

By Tim Herrera

"Parents are the ultimate role models for their children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent."

- Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo)

When I was very small, this guy on the TV would talk and it seemed like he talked only to me. He never scolded. He always encouraged. Sometimes he was funny in a silly way that made him childlike too. I never told my real grandfather this but I wish he'd been more like Captain Kangaroo.

Bob Keeshan - the man who brought the Captain to life - lost his own life last week at the age of 76 after a long illness. He left behind a legacy of service to children that I doubt will ever be matched.

When I was a kid, the Captain read to me. He gave me practical advice on listening to my parents or making good choices. He was the constant target of pranks from hand-puppet characters that wandered through his Treasure House. The puppets were low-tech and human-powered, primitive compared to today's computer-generated creations. Mister Moose - a regular on the morning television program - would ask stupid knock-knock jokes; the Captain never had the right answer and would find himself beneath a downpour of
Ping-Pong balls. Downpours of Ping-Pong balls were funny in the 50's and 60's. Being a true pro, the Captain always got over his embarrassment in time to introduce the next cartoon, without displaying hard feelings toward the moose.

Bob Keeshan spent nearly thirty-five years as Captain Kangaroo. His was the longest running children's television program of all time, from 1955 to 1984 on CBS, followed by six-years on public television. I watched the show religiously growing up, occasionally checking in as I got older just to make sure things were cool with the Captain.

Keeshan's show was designed just for kids. The pace of the program was painfully slow but at the same time it was kind and gentle. It's just what kids needed to entertain them and reach out to them.

Watching the Captain was the perfect way to start the morning before school. The view of our TV set from the kitchen table was unobstructed - if I sat in my father's chair - and I'd watch the show while downing a bowl of Wheaties, occasionally missing my mouth while laughing at a stupid joke. The show was innocent fun. Something a lot of kids don't have today.

I considered my grandfather the "Anti Captain." Unlike the Captain, he was loud and demanding. He considered the back of his hand a better disciplinary tool than a calm discussion. His idea of humor involved yanking out his upper dentures and running them up my arm until I screamed for Grandma. Yanking out dentures and running them up children's arms was funny in the 50's and 60's. I often wondered how my Grandpap would have reacted to a shower of Ping-Pong balls - maybe ones filled with lead. He probably would have chased me while brandishing his uppers in a threatening manner.

It was a sad day when CBS canned the Captain in 1984. But it was bound to happen. He was from a different era, before programs starring the Power Rangers or He Man and the Masters of the Universe mesmerized kids and prompted them to demand that their parents pay big bucks for the accompanying action figures and video games.

The Captain couldn't keep up with the fast action. Newer programs featured explosions, car chases, vicious alien creatures and brawls. Captain Kangaroo wasn't a brawler and he eventually lost the fight with network television to keep teaching and reaching kids.

Keeshan was critical of today's children's programs calling them too
violent. But even after the studio lights faded on his television career and the Treasure House, Keeshan continued to work as an advocate for children's and family issues.

You have to wonder if children will ever have the opportunity to enjoy a teacher like him ever again.
About The Author:
Name: Tim Herrera
Tim Herrera is a nationally recognized family writer and the author of "I'm Their Dad! Not Their Babysitter!" and "Where the Dust Never Settles".

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