25 Inimitable Men 4/25
George Feeny (Boy Meets World)
At some point in all our lives we all wished we had a teacher like Mr. Feeny, and maybe we were fortunate enough to know one in our time. George Feeny is a character unlike any other — a character who’s managed to inspire us in ways no other TV figure could have. In a way, he was a mentor for us all — “Believe in yourselves, dream, try, do good” has become a motto we follow as well. But apart from how he’s inspired us off-screen, it’s how he’s behaved on-screen that’s made the character incomparable. George Feeny wasn’t just a teacher, but he was the kind of friend young people don’t realize they could ever have or need. The kind of friend who’s in more ways a mentor, but one who sets an example for a what a friend should be — kind, loyal, accepting, and encouraging. As human beings, we learn a great deal of truth from our families, but when we’re challenged to be brighter in school, there’s a different kind of growth that takes place. And for a number of students in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia’s fictional school of John Adams High, Mr. Feeny served as inimitable inspiration.
(I should note that throughout this entire article I will be referring to him as Mr. Feeny because I firmly believe that though fictional, he’s the kind of man who deserves formal attention.)
Mr. Feeny’s kindness was unparalleled. As someone who has experienced ridicule from teachers, I’ve always admired the way Mr. Feeny would address the students who weren’t A+ students like Topanga Lawrence and Stuart Minkus. In all situations, we’re accustomed to understand that kindness is the key, and while students are often rebellious, disciplinary action shouldn’t equate to harsh behavior or taunting. Feeny took it upon himself to understand his students beyond the basics they are told, and in doing so, he built the kind of relationships with them that allowed them to feel safe as opposed to feeling judged. And while it may not have been evident at the time, he persisted because he cared. He persisted because he wanted them to succeed with every fiber of his being. An example of this, one I remember most fondly is, when he notes to Shawn Hunter that he does in fact know who he is — the choice to mention his favorite band is indication of the fact that in spite of his rebellion, Feeny has always seen what lies beyond. The choice to remain kind yet stern in the midst of keeping up a teacher’s demeanor allowed for his students to know with a shadow of a doubt, that under his watch, they’d always be protected.
Mr. Feeny’s choice to never give up on his students allowed for us to understand that when those we care for mess up, we too, cannot give up on them. When the potential in a person is seen, it’s our job to make sure we help them become the very best versions of themselves and that could only be done through steadfast loyalty. A person can reach their highest potential when they’re under the impression that there are people rooting for them, and people seeing the best in them. For people like Shawn Hunter especially, seeing men who don’t take the easy route allowed him to understand that not everyone would abandon him like his father. It allowed him to understand that there are people in the world who believe that discipline and hard work can result in unimaginable achievement. It allowed someone like Eric Matthews to feel safe enough to see that when others ruled him out as a failure, someone who wasn’t family believed that he too could be successful in this world. And when someone like Topanga Lawrence didn’t really understand what a true father’s objective was, Mr. Feeny was there to show her that it’s someone who believes that you’re special even when you’re imperfect. It’s someone who doesn’t put unrealistic pressure on you but rather encourages and assists. A loyal figure in our lives is someone who we never have to impress because we’re forced to, but someone we admire so profoundly, we want to make sure they see the best of us as often as possible. It’s the belief that even when we fail, they won’t condemn or ridicule us but they’ll believe in us to rise even higher.
Acceptance and loyalty go hand in hand, but in the example of Shawn Hunter and Eric Matthews, it was Mr. Feeny’s encouragement that allowed them to find the means of success from within. They needed to believe that they could in order to succeed. And though at a younger age, they didn’t understand that everything Mr. Feeny did was to benefit them, growing older and experiencing life taught them the truth. It taught them that those who’ve remained by their side even when they haven’t been the best versions of themselves are the people who care the deepest, and Mr. Feeny has been a prime example of that. (Are we going to take a moment to cry about the fact that he officiated Shawn and Katie’s wedding? Let’s do it. Let’s cry about it.) He never gave up on them, and because of that reason, they never gave up on themselves, thereby serving as proof of the fact that even when the whole world is against us, if there’s at least one person in the world, it could be enough.
There’s a lot Mr. Feeny taught these lost kids, us viewers included, and it’s the fact that being a good person matters most in this life. We’re not all Topanga Lawrences in school. Sometimes we’re Shawn Hunters. Sometimes we’re the Cory Matthews. Sometimes we’re the Eric Matthews. Whoever we are, we’re special — there’s good in us and that’ goodness matters more than any letter grade that could ever be given. Our choice to extend a hand and to continuously try in life is the ultimate gift we can give ourselves and those watching as an example. And for Mr. Feeny to have made such an impact is truly indescribable. For the most part, I can always write too much, but there are some people you’ll never have the right words for and Mr. Feeny is one of those people. This isn’t meant to serve as a letter to a fictional teacher, but in a sense it is. I pray that if there’s one thing everyone in the world knows, it’s a teacher who doesn’t give up on them. And if you can’t seem to luck out in the area, then I hope you’ll turn your TV on to this remarkable show that’s bound to teach more than you could ever imagine. Mr. Feeny wasn’t just a gift in the lives of his students, but in our lives — I have tons of friends that will agree on this. It should be mandatory that prior to actually becoming a teacher, every candidate should watch all seven seasons of Boy Meets World in order to learn how to change lives like Mr. Feeny. A hearty, round of applause to sir William Daniels whose portrayal was unparalleled — sublime and perfect in more ways than words will ever describe. The character would merely be words on a page without Daniels’ nuanced performances and heartfelt delivery of every single line.
Class may have been dismissed long ago, but I always find myself going back to those lessons to move forward. I don’t know if anything I do in life will be perfect, this article included, by I do know that I’ve tried my absolute hardest and that’s enough.