It’s one thing to take the “Happy” out of “Happy Meals,” but I cannot stand silent as advocacy groups call for the retirement of McDonald’s longtime front man, Ronald McDonald. Critics claim the burger chain uses the friendly clown to hook children on junk food, but I say there's more to the story.
It’s not that I’m for fast food and french fries, nor am I a big clown fan. But I am all about healthy role models for my three children. And you can’t find a better figure for inspiring your kids to do good than the Ronald, who has put a smile on the faces of hundreds of thousands of children, sick and healthy. I say this not because I've spent hours trying to pry my kids from the netting of the McDonald's indoor ball jungle during play dates, but because for more than a dozen years, I've sat next to the real-life Ronald at the neighborhood playground and pool. He's a dad and one of a troupe of men who've played the role of Ronald for the chain for the last 48 years. He lives two blocks away from my home in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
I can’t reveal his name, because he says his contract doesn’t allow him to fess up, but I can tell you about this thoroughly decent guy, who’s a father of two and whose son has been a buddy of my 18 year-old daughter since they were in preschool. She and her circle of friends say he’s the nicest, most gentle dad on the soccer field sidelines.
Over the years, I’ve run into him at the local coffee shop and at the gym. We always talk about our common interest: helping kids who are sick or financially disadvantaged or who otherwise just need a break. The real Ronald spends most of his weekdays visiting kids with chronic illness at various Ronald McDonald Houses and, during summers, at Camp Ronald McDonald, and he's always inspired me to do more. When I lost my job at an Internet company that created community for people facing significant illnesses, Ronald encouraged me to find other ways to turn my empathy into both vocation and avocation. I landed at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep, an inner city high school on Chicago's West Side, where I work with teens who have a great need for encouragement, inspiration and support. Thanks to Ronald, I also still keep in close touch with many of the families whose children are chronically ill from my prior position.
I don’t want to see Ronald sitting next to me at the coffee shop in the weeks ahead, scouring want ads on a laptop, trying to figure out a career move that will support his two sons through college. The idea, put forth by the critics, that kids might eat more fruits and vegetables if there was no Ronald seems insignificant in light of what he's done for the many kids whose lives he’s touched with his kindness and compassion.
The consequences of retiring Ronald go far behind McDonaldland and are an important matter I hope will be taken up with Mayor McCheese and the corporate big guys behind the burger brand. Kids will live without plastic toys, and yes it would be a good thing to create a world where they crave fresh carrots instead of fries. But in the world we live in today, where bullies and bad guys make headlines daily, kids need inspiring, larger-than-life do-gooders like Ronald.
Fortunately, as the fast food chain recently told the Los Angeles Times, Ronald will not be retired. He's too much of an “ambassador of good." And I agree.
Would you vote to keep Ronald?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.