Years ago I first saw a bumper strip with the message "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." It has been popularized since then, but the message it carries still has not been taken to heart by most people.
If you doubt the truth of the message, watch the Rodney Dangerfield bio on Biography Channel. It clearly shows that becoming childlike can heal almost any set of disabling memories.
Rodney's mother was cold and had a mean streak. She simply could not love the boy. His father traveled most of his life with a comedy troupe, and when he and Rodney finally became friends, he discovered his father stayed away from home just to escape his wife. Rodney completely understood.
He soon developed his "I get no respect" theme, and many of the jokes about his abuse and lack of respect were true. Somehow it helped him to tolerate the memories to use them in his routines.
The stage became his playground where he became a child again, and many comedians talked about his childlike behavior during his routines. He finally became fully aware that his comedy had become his therapy.
Losing any phase of infancy and childhood can have serious results. In a psychology class at UT-Knoxville, we saw that even crawling is important. Children who crawl develop better balance and even more mental acuity. Something as simple as crawling is a vital stage of a child's development!
We also studied three groups of baby monkeys who were raised differently. One group had a
mother who nursed them at her breast. Another group had a warm, fuzzy doll with a baby bottle taped to it. Another group just had a simple baby bottle they had to use on their own.
Tests for monkey maturity were developed and, of course, the monkeys with real mothers matured the most completely and healthily. Those with the dolls were next, and those who had to feed themselves and received no affection were retarded in all areas of monkey development.
Imagine Rodney with a cold and unloving mother and the developmental problems it created for him.
I took pride in him for the way he overcame his severe obstacles. When he got married and had two children and was finally making it as a comedian, his wife developed severe health problems. Rather than see his children suffer his fate of no loving mother and an absent father, he moved back home and took a job as an aluminum-siding salesman so he could be with his children. When they got older, he resumed his career as a comedian.
Since he had to be home a lot, he opened his own comedy club in his hometown, and it was a financial success.
After several successful movies and many appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," he was asked by HBO to do several comedy specials. He used them as a chance to help young comedians avoid the years of hard apprenticeship he had experienced. He created many future comedy stars.
I love a story that makes me proud of being a human and gives me another role model for my life. I will always have a very warm spot in my heart for Rodney Dangerfield, who proved "it is never too late to have a happy childhood."
Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.