What do the words “Happy Days” make you think of? Is it an attitude? Is it a slogan? If you are my age, you probably remember the TV show with Ron Howard (“Richie Cunningham”), Marion Ross (“Mrs. Cunningham”), and Henry Winkler (“The Fonz”). Who can forget the ultimate coolness of Arthur Fonzarelli, the leather-clad chick magnet who lived in the apartment above the Cunningham’s garage?
I recently attended a fundraising dinner with my wife for Pathstone Mental Health where Henry Winkler was the guest speaker. Those in attendance all had an interest in children’s mental health; some were parents and caregivers; others worked with children. From afar, Henry looked just as young as ever. He spoke of his childhood and his parents, about his school days, and about his acting and directing career. He also talked about his family (he is married with three children). With humor and a humble spirit, I listened as “The Fonz” shared painful stories about being called stupid by his parents and teachers, though he didn’t know why. Naturally his self-esteem plummeted.
It wasn’t until he was an adult that Henry found out he was dyslexic. He spoke candidly about how self-esteem is so important for a child’s psyche. Though his presentation was very humorous, he told the crowd about how badly his parents had treated him by tearing him down instead of building him up. Children need a sense of belonging and they need to be nurtured, he said.
Today Henry is an accomplished director and producer. (Did you know he was an executive producer for the TV show MacGyver?) He’s been in many commercials, and is now writing children’s books. In fact, I mentioned Henry Winkler to my 10-year-old son who is in Grade 4 and he recognized Henry’s name because they read his books at school.
No matter what mental illness you’re dealing with, self-esteem is critical. We need to ensure our children grow up with a strong self-esteem and that it is continuously nurtured—forever. I hope one day you, too, will get the opportunity to hear Henry Winkler speak. It was an amazing presentation.