143 – A Father’s Day Message on Weight Control, Leadership, and Love

This is the second of my Father’s Day blogs and it is inspired by a movie that I just saw on one of America’s most famous Father figures – Fred Rogers.  Some may not think of Mr. Rogers as a father figure.  He was not the image of the prototypical human father.  He was not strong, dominating or particularly stern.  He did however have characteristics of our heavenly Father.  An image of compassion who suffered the little children to come to him.  He sought to protect children from the vagaries and violence of the modern-day world through the explanation of the simple truths of compassion and right living.

One of the most compelling parts of the documentary was the explanation of Mr. Rogers’ daily ritual to control his weight.  From his days in the seminary to his last days on earth, Mr. Rogers sought to maintain a weight of 143 lbs.   Why do you ask?  There were three main reasons and each of them is compelling.

  1. Weight control – Mr. Rogers was pudgy as an adolescent boy.  Although the documentary does not cover this in detail, I suspect that he was bullied over his weight (more on the impact of that later).  Because of his concern to be happy and healthy, Mr. Rogers strove to maintain his weight at 143 lbs. daily.  He had a daily ritual where he swam 1 mile in a pool and then weighed himself to make sure that he was at 143 lbs.  I am no Mr. Rogers but I have a similar construct related to weight maintenance.  Each week before my Weight Watcher’s weigh-in, I strive to weigh 185 lbs. or less.  This is within the weight allowance to maintain Lifetime status but there is a more important reason for this target (as there is for Mr. Roger’s target which I will explain later).  I was in the class of 85 for West Point and our class motto is “For Excellence We Strive, 85!”.  The reason I believe in this moto is explained in this blog Life Lessons – Strive for Excellence Always!.  The reason for Mr. Rogers weight goal is even more inspirational!

2. Leadership – It is hard to contemplate that a meek and mild man such as Mr. Rogers as the ultimate leader (especially in the current climate of shouting on both sides of the political spectrum) but he was!  In my mind, he was the penultimate leader.  He came of age when TV was reshaping the culture of America.  He was dismayed with the children TV shows of the day that were nothing more than people shoving pies in each other faces and frantic cartoons of action and violence (unfortunately it is only worse now).  He made it his mission to slow down the pace of TV and to talk to children in simple truths about love, compassion and being a good neighbor.  He did this without puppets not pageantry.

After seeing the documentary, I got additional perspective on Daniel the Tiger.  I always knew that Daniel the Tiger was an extension of Mr. Rogers but the documentary showing Mr. Rogers as a kid cemented it.  Just knowing the period and seeing Mr. Rogers as a pudgy, sensitive, rich kid indicated to me that Daniel tiger and Mr. Rogers were one in the same.  He must have withstood a lot of bullying and poured out the lessons of dealing with that pain in the words of Daniel the Tiger.  You can viscerally feel the inspiration and the heart of Mr. Rogers every time Daniel the Tiger explains his experience and fears.  The attached link on the death of Bobby Kennedy is one example Mr. Rogers on Assassination.  Fred Rogers led the fight to protect our children and his message resonates now more than ever.  As Jesus proclaims in Mathew 18:3:  “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”, Mr. Rogers sought to protect to the hearts of little children and those of adults to seek a higher calling.

3. Love – In the end, Mr. Rogers’ weight and message is one of a Father’s Love.  His reason for maintaining a weight of 143 was due to the number of letters in a three-word phrase: I (1) Love (4) You (3).  Mr. Rogers’  message to both himself and to the rest of the world is I Love You just the way you are!  It does not matter if you are a different race, creed or color.  It does not matter if you have a disability (see clip Mr. Rogers on Disability).  You are a creature of God with a purpose and passion to better the lives of you and your neighbors.  In this time of discord and constant bickering, we should strive to be good neighbors like Mr. Rogers.  To see the good and with love, overcome the differences.  And like Mr. Rogers like one another for their unique characteristics.  I will close with a song by Fred Rogers and Josie Carey on the Mr. Rogers show and this clip concerning 9/11 Mr. Rogers 9-11:

I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I like your disposition
Your facial composition
And with your kind permission
I’ll shout it to a star

I like you as you are
I wouldn’t want to change you
Or even rearrange you
Not by far

I like you
I-L-I-K-E-Y-O-U
I like you, yes I do
I like you, Y-O-U
I like you, like you as you are

Lessons on Weight Loss and Life from the Royal Wedding – The Redemptive Power of Love

Like so many previous blogs, this one was inspired by my morning workout with two added kickers – the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the memory of my son’s college graduation the night before.  I was watching the wedding while walking on the treadmill at 6:00 AM in the morning.

The pomp and circumstance were amazing and the pastoral introduction that Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury invoked was moving.  It talked to the power of love in marriage and the foundation of family as a society.  Then Bishop Curry, the Episcopal Head of the Episcopal Church in the United States, took us all to church and expanded on the redemptive of power of love to renew the world.  In his words, he said:

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and think and imagine, think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.”  Bishop Michael Curry

He then tied marital love to the great commandment as proclaimed by Jesus.

“But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we’re all here. Two young people fell in love and we all showed up. But it’s not just for and about a young couple who we rejoice with. It’s more than that. Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer the sum of the essence of the teachings of Moses and he went back and reached back into the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus said, ‘you shall love the lord, your god, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment.’

And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. And then in Matthews’ version, he added, he said on these two, love of god and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that god has been trying to tell the world, love god. Love your neighbors. And while you’re at it, love yourself.” Bishop Michael Curry

Now, we have not yet realized the redemptive power of love as a society as what happened yesterday in the high school in Santa Fe can attest.  But one thing I can speak to you from the heart and from experience is the redemptive power of love as it applies to my own experience and my weight loss journey!  Love of yourself, Love of your neighbor (and the Love of your Neighbor for you), and Love of God were the keys to becoming a healthier and happier person and hopefully projecting that to joy to those that I encounter.   Let me illuminate each point as it pertains to my own experience in weight loss and life in ascending priority order and relate it to my son’s graduation

  1. Love of self – Loving yourself is the first step to loving others and becoming a healthier, happier person.  Prior to 2015, I did not often practice self-love.  Grumpy, griping and overweight, I dwelled on what I didn’t do rather than focusing on what I could or would do.  Chewed up by self-centered anxiety and stress, I overate and overcompensated for my failings.  The nadir in self-doubt and recrimination came sadly on a day that should have been one of my joyful one – the graduation of my third child and only son from high school.  Over 330, unfit and unhappy, I was not an example that I wanted my son to uphold.

I said this was the nadir but really was not.  This graduation and the picture taken their drove more self-loathing and more weight gain, although it did sow the first seeds of change.  I idolized my Father and thought to myself of the example I was setting for my son.  And it was not just an image thing.  I was so worn out from the little exercise walking to and from the car to the graduation, that I nearly did not have the energy to get in the picture, let alone look happy in it.  I truly wondered if I would make it to the next one.

It was only when I joined Weight Watchers and started to see small victories that I could slowly stopped beating up myself.   I no longer focused on the past or had anxiety for the future but started to focus on myself and today.  Our Weight Loss lead Julie has a saying that echoes those of flight attendants, “You first need to put your own mask on before putting on the mask of others”.  By first focusing on loving yourself, you are then able to get on the right track and ultimately get place to help others.

2. Love of others – The love of others from my friends, family, and team members in Accenture Active and Weight Watchers were key to my renewal and in redeeming myself in my own eyes and perhaps those of others.  I cannot tell you the number of times that a kind word from someone lifted me up and drove me forward.  I learned so many lessons from their love and experience!  Countless times a thoughtful word or suggestion helped to pick me up and get back on track to becoming a healthier person. I am now trying to pay their love forward by helping others with the lessons and gifts given to me.  The impetus of this blog is to help others struggling with weight loss and anxiety with words of encouragement, useful information and love.  You help yourself by helping others!

  1. Love of A Power Greater than Yourself – The last and most important element in the recipe of love is the unconditional love of a power greater than oneself.  In my case that power is Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Catholic Church.  For others, it may be different, and I am certainly not here to proselytize. But what I am here to tell you is there is a power in moving beyond ourselves and being thankful for what was given to us from up above. The power of prayer and thankfulness transform!.  It was key to renewing my body and to refreshing my soul and for other.  But more importantly, it affords the opportunity to have a closer relationship with God and to give thanks for both joys and sorrows in life.

My personal favorite prayer is the Rosary because it reflects the love of God for us and a Mother for her son.  I started the practice to say at least a rosary a week.   Likewise, I keep a daily, thankfulness journal to remember all that God has done for me.

In closing, love has the ultimate power to redeem and renew.  Yesterday. I attended our son’s college graduation a 150+ lbs. lighter with a renewed body and improved soul. If the power of love can renew a curmudgeon such as I myself, it can do it for you and in time the world!

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!

The Lessons I Leaned When Running Away

When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away.  I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends.  It was understandable in some respects.  I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend.  I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.

I remember the day as it is almost yesterday.  My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off.  As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed.  I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional).  I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that.  I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.”  He half dismissed it but I did not.  At that moment, I decided to run away.

My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods.  Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!).  Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off.  I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me.  I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.

Back then I could run fast.  I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below).  I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

I do not know how he knew where I was going.  I will never forget it.  He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough.  He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life.  Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President.  He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life.  He then hugged me and I got in the car.

My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas.  I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat.  My brothers adjusted better.  Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend.  Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.

But I should have been!  Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years.  And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)!  I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:

  1. I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38!  She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved.  I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state.  Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
  2. Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
  3. I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision.  My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds.  But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
  4. The last lesson from him is the power of apology.  I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home.  It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!

It Takes Courage to Show God’s Smile

This is the first of a series of weekly blogs inspired by my favorite podcast from Father Mike Schmitz.  I introduced this series in my recent blog It Takes Courage in this World.

As Father Mike explained in his podcast, much of life demands  courage.  The everyday sort of courage.  The kind that gets you out of bed to go to work even when you don’t know the ultimate outcome of your presentation.  Or a young swimmer to jump off the blocks for the first time.  To plunge into the deep end of life without exactly knowing how to compete or even get to the other side.   This one image – a young kid learning how to swim and compete for the first time – got me to thinking about one of the bravest people that I know – my cousin Sean. Every day for Sean is a plunge into the unknown, a world that he does not fully understand.  But each day he faces that world armed with the love of his parents and brother.

Sean was born with  a neurological disorder of the brain and nervous system that  has severally impacted his mental development and confined him to a wheelchair from birth.  At 26, he cannot walk, speak, or read a book, but that has not stop him in fulfilling his purpose in the world – to show God’s love and smile.    He goes camping, school each day and even has gone to Disney World to see his favorite character – Minnie Mouse.   Thinking about that, I started to marvel at what courage that takes for Sean.  Unlike the swimmer who takes the blocks for the first time, I am not sure Sean understands where he will end up when he takes the plunge.  How scary it must be when he wakes up at night on occasion and does not see his nurturing parents nearby.  It is more apparent to see the courage of his parents and brother who care for him, feed him, clothe him and calms his fears.  But it is equally brave for Sean to face a world he little understands to bring out a smile and share his love.  Here is a picture of Sean with Minnie and Mickie.

kid with mickie and minne
Sean with his friends Minnie and Mickie

I have not had the pleasure to see Sean that often having moved from my hometown in New Jersey to Texas.  But the times that I have seen him directly, I was awed in his trust in others and his ability to reflect his family’s love.  I will remember always the time I met him face to face for the first time at Mike and Donna’s house in Bordentown.  He did not know me but undeterred crawled over and showed me his Minnie Mouse and toys with a smile.  Again when I visited in 2015 with my wife and daughter, Sean was there with a ready smile to meet some new people and show us his joy.

Indeed, it sometimes takes courage in this life to show God’s smile and reflect the love of your family.  Thank you Sean for showing us always this love.