Who Do You Need to Thank?

This weekend marked the 85th Academy Awards, a time of pageantry and accomplishment, and I’m reminded of when Fred Rogers (1928-2003) won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Daytime Emmys. His words shed light on the part of any awards show that’s most often rushed.

The thank yous.


There was no soft-spoken sweater switcheroo this time. For all his gentle ways, Mr. Rogers was there in black tie and tux, reminding us grownups that his words still had power and conviction and authority, that he was still who we always believed he was—a velvet wrapped brick of a man.


In a simple 15-second message, Mr. Rogers drove home that no success story is created in a vacuum. That all of us, bootstrap pullers though we are, have a long legacy of people we need to thank.


Esquire magazine’s Tom Junod describes the experience.


Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award—and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”


And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, “I’ll watch the time.”


There was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn’t kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked.


And so they did.


One second, two seconds, three seconds—and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier.


And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly “May God be with you,” to all his … children


Who do you need to thank?


Who has helped you become who you are?


Would you take 10 seconds with me now, give yourself to the moment and to the task, and make a short list.


In no particular order, here’s an extremely short version of mine …



To David Kopp, my friend and university journalism professor who kept me wanting to be there, to Murray Chalmers, my high school English teacher who spurred me forward, and to Dr. Shelly Cunningham at graduate school who once wrote on a paper, “Your writing deserves to find a wider audience,” thank you.


Spiritual leaders:

To pastor Tim Johnson, who’d talk to me about everything under the sun, to Camp Firwood directors Mike Johnson and Darell Smith, thank you for showing me a world more alive than I’d ever imagined.



To Lt. Buck Compton, who offered an example of a man who led well. Thank you.


Closest friends:

To Bob Craddock, you’re the greatest. Karen Clark, you are the sister I never had. Thank you.



To my parents, I’m grateful to have 2 people who loved me unconditionally along the way. You approached life like you were on my side, not on my back. Also to my in-laws, and my brother and his family. Family is most important, and thanks for being a great one.



To my door-opening literary agent Greg Johnson. In the words of Rod Tidwell to Jerry Maguire, you are my ambassador of kwan. Thank you.


Wife and children:

To Mary Margaret, Addy, Zach, and baby X, you mean more to me than you’ll ever know. The words “thank you” don’t come close enough to expressing my gratefulness for you.


There are so many more people I could list. My friends in high school and college and at camp and at jobs along the way. My relatives. My pastor now. The guys I meet with regularly. The writers and thinkers and leaders and artists who I’ve never known but who’ve influenced anyway. So many people to thank.


So many people help you become who you are.



Your turn. Who has helped you become who you are? Use the comment section below to write your short list.

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