A Mother’s Day Memorial: The Leader of the Family

My site is about weight loss and leadership. And today, midway between the day of my Mother’s passing (May 7th) and the day to honor her (Mother’s Day), I feel called to write about the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my Mom.

Just as my Dad was known as Big D for his size and hailing from Dallas, my mom was known as Big Pat. I of course was little D or little Donnie.  My Mom’s counterpart was Pat Buckland, one of our great friends who was smaller in height and a member of the club.  (Two side notes.  The club was a group of family friends who all worked at DeLaval  in Jersey and little Pat who barely reached 5 feet could match my Mom’s stature in the 70’s with her boufant hairdo that was at least 5 – 6 inches high!  Little Pat was also a great role model).

My Mom was the secret leader of the family.  Dad was the external leader and I have wrote a few blogs about him already – here Lessons from Leaders – How to Get the Iron Out the Door (and not have it come back in!)  and here Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving .   But Mom was the internal leader of the family.  She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world.  I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just five with appropriate antidotes.

  1. How not to take myself so seriously!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy.  Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever.  And part of that is just my anal retentive self.  Mom was the opposite.  She used to loosen me and my Dad up.  Here is an anecdote.  My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas.  Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher.  I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high.  My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you!  I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late.  As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next.  My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
  2. If Before the Gospel, Everything is OK.  My mom was a Catholic and my Dad a back sliding Baptist (although always supportive of my Mom).   Although she was never intense in her religion, she always took us to Church and had us go to religion school.  She  also taught me that God loves you no matter your sins.  Another anecdote and an additional example of how she calmed my intensive nature).  With three siblings and a host of other activities, we were habitually late to church.   I would be stressing in the car as we drove to our parish (which surprisingly enough had the same name as the church I go to now – St. Vincent De Paul!).  She would say “Donn…ie, if we make it before the Gospel we will be alright!”  And truer words could not be said.  Half the battle in life and with your relationship with Jesus is showing up and making the effort to love and serve.
  3. Do not be a GOM!   Don…nie, Garry, David, Lori don’t be a GOM was a common phrase.  I knew what it meant from context.  Do not be hoodwinked, naive, tricked.  But I did not not know were it originated until I looked it up.  A GOM is Irish slang for a fool.  It was one of my Mom’s favorite terms (believe it or not in an endearing manner).  It must have come from my Grandpop Henry and his Father Charles who came over from Ireland during the potato famine.   Mom would use this term in one of two ways:  1.  Ewe, Don..nie don’t be a GOM.  When I said something humorous or silly. 2.  Donnie, don’t be a GOM they are trying to trick you!.  I liked the former better than the latter, but was appreciative of both.   No one could ever pull one over on my Mom.  She was not so silently shrewd and no one could pull one over on her eyes.
  4. Sing from your heart.  My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom.  She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs.  I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind.  She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart.   She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey.  To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud.  It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
  5. Love, love, love to the End!   What is it with Mothers?  They love us always and to the end.  My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother).  Two anecdotes stand out.  I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids.  I was the nerdy kid.  Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham.  My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out.  They never bothered me again!
  6. Last thoughts.  The last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful.   I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas.  My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator.  Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK.  We sat there and finally gave our OK.  But Mom had saved us.  She knew her time and had passed.  I will never forget her final act of love.  How she protected us from that decision.

In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother.  Love them!  Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be!

Not What’s Next, but What’s Now: The Key to a Fit and Happy Life

I had an epiphany about weight loss and quite frankly life in general while listening to my favorite podcast from Father Mike Schmitz.  Father Mike who ministers to Catholic College Students (and some 50+ year men like yours truly) has a new series of podcasts for the end of the school year called What’s Next.  The first of the series was about the anxiety that is sometimes associated when contemplating what’s next in this world.  As soon as I heard that, I got an inspiration.  The key question for weight loss and life in general is not What’s Next but What’s Now.  I think Father Mike may go there on the next one of the series but since he did not hit this exact point on this first one (listen to it here Fr Mike’s Podcast ), I will!

Too often, we are filled with anxiety about what is going to come next.  We set goals, or we face hardships and we worry what is coming next.  Will I achieve the goal for which I strive, or will I sink under the weight of some difficulty that is hard to bear?  In weight loss terms, we set a path and a timetable to lose 75 lbs.  before your reunion and now have only lost 20  lbs with the reunion 3 weeks a way.  Or you have a difficult project for which the outcome is uncertain, so you stress each out and eat  too many Quarter Pounders with cheese.  I am not saying stop setting goals or bearing the crosses of everyday life.  What I am saying is the proper question is not What’s Next, it is What’s Now.

There are three variations on that phrase which are insightful when losing the baggage of everyday life whether it is weight or worries:

1.       Be thankful for Now and not anxious for what’s Next.  When I was losing over 170 lbs. in a year and a half, the times when I went off track were normally related to not being thankful for the strides that I had made that day.    Revel in the success of today and don’t worry that the pounds may not be coming off fast enough to hit your goal in a certain timeframe.  The weight will come off.  Likewise, be thankful for a beautiful sunset or a hug from your child rather than whether you will hit your next sales target.  The first two brings well-being, the latter could lead to a rush of cortisol and a palpitating heart!

2.       Don’t let the goals of tomorrow, get in the way of doing good today.  There is a body and soul connection.  In the rush of making the next goal, we miss the chance to help someone out and show a little kindness.  When you help someone else out, you feel good about your self and maybe get a little exercise (e.g. helping someone move, etc.)  Likewise, when you are kind to yourself, instead of beating yourself up, you are less stressed and less prone to binge eating.   Stop striving and help someone. 

3.       Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can do today.  I know it is a little cliché but maybe this insight into the phrase is not.  Sometimes when we are thinking about what we desire to do tomorrow (like run a half marathon), we get frustrated with what we can do today (like walk a half block).  When I started off on my weight loss journey, I could walk a few laps in the kiddie pool (because regular walking of any distance would hurt my back).  If I had stopped because I was frustrated, I would have never been able to walk the 50 miles in one day that I did a year and a half later.  Do what you can do now and do not stress if you are behind in your progress.

In closing, one popular song title said, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”.  I say STOP and do what you can do in fitness, weight loss, and life today!

It Takes Courage in this World

One of the most inspiring people in my life is Father Mike Schmitz.  For you that may not heard of him, he is a Catholic Priest and speaker who leads the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  He is prevalent on social media and speaks often at youth conferences and for Ascension Press.  His two podcasts (one for UMD and one for Ascension Press) have often inspired me and believe it or not have been critical to my weight loss!   During my exercise routines, I often listen to a Father Mike playlist.   His podcasts for UMD range from 20 to 25 minutes and those for Ascension Press shorter.  You can read some more on my Fr. Mike exercise practice (item 9)  and other weight loss essentials  in this blog. What’s AP? A Digital Guide to Weight Loss

If I have a good day at the gym, I report to my wife that I did 3 Father Mike’s (the UMD variety) on the treadmill.  I think people in the gym may think that I am a little crazy during Fr. Mike’s talks.  I have listened to some when he speaks about being Minnesotan and laughed so loud the guy on the treadmill nearly fell off!  Equally, I often listened with tears streaming down my face moved by his words of faith, inspiration, and love.

This latter reaction is what happened yesterday at 5 AM during my Saturday exercise routine.  I listened to Fr. Mike’s podcast “It takes Courage” and was immediately overwhelmed with his simple message that so much of life just takes courage.  He gives some simple everyday examples that at first may not leap out at you but later resonate deeply.  Parents going to work on a Monday after a hectic weekend to take care of their family.  Children in their first swim meet when they climb up in the blocks.   Parents who are getting on in life and are willing to let go and prepare to meet their next chapter. The infertile couple who desire a kid so badly but are not sure if they will ever conceive.  And those couples that do ultimately conceive.   In Fr.  Mike’s words, “It takes courage to bring a life in this world and say I am going to lay down my life for whoever this child is.”  You can hear the full podcast from Father Mike here.   Life Demands Courage – Fr. Mike Schmitz

This message –   It takes courage to face a world full of everyday unknowns – moved and inspired me to develop my next blog series which will unfold over the next few weeks.  Ideas kept popping into my head – not of the famous – but of my friends and family that everyday wake up to face the world with courage when so much of their future is unknown.  A cousin as he faces a world that he sometimes does not understand to bring God’s smile into the world.  An uncle that walks up the daunting stairs of Eisenhower Hall on two wooden legs.   A friend with the courage to be himself and not whom other thought that he should be.  These friends and family inspire me with their faith, love and courage to face everyday challenges and to bring their light and that of God into the world.

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