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Sweatin’ With Daddy: Why Richard Simmons is My Unexpected Father Figure

Richard-SimmonsRemember fitness guru Richard Simmons? Yes, he’s still around. He’s older now, (63,) has less hair than in the 80s, but is still a sparkplug. I began attending his Saturday aerobics classes aptly called “Sweat” in Beverly Hills about three years ago. His classes are quite a wild experience.

Basically, the class is half workout, half comedy show starring Mr. Simmons. Richard is famous for wearing costumes — one week, he’s a Roman gladiator, the next, he’s dressed as a pink French poodle. The one thing he always wears are tights. White tights, pink tights, tights with skulls or zebra print, Richard never dares to expose a bare leg. I think this is a thing from the 1970s. The actresses playing Janet and Terry on “Three’s Company” always wore nude nylons under their shorts, against the producer’s wishes. But that was before a quickie spray tan was available on every corner.

Richard (or Little Dickie as he often calls himself) likes to sing show tunes and make jokes. He can really work the room, telling stories from his childhood in New Orleans, his days on General Hospital or his recent visit to a Hollywood retirement home on Fairfax Ave. One of his favorite quotes is, “You fed it, you move it!” and he often screams “Do you know how much I love you?” before scurrying out of his studio to give a quick wave to a tour bus, waiting patiently on Civic Center Drive. It is truly magnificent to see a person who whole-heartedly loves what he does it is inspirational.

Behind all the laughs and motivational screams, Richard is a deeply sensitive, caring person. He answers hundreds of letters and emails each week from people struggling with their weight some morbidly obese. He doesn’t judge them; he was once obese himself. Richard just loves, motivates, and loves some more, the way a good father does.

Richard-Simmons2And did I mention the Barbies? A few times a year, Richard raffles off various Barbie Dolls from his extreme doll collection. Magically, I’ve won two! The first is the lovely Spring Bouquet Barbie, which is pretty, but the second one was made with me in mind. One Saturday at the end of class, Richard held up what he called the “Carmen Miranda” Barbie Doll (It’s official name is the Bob Mackie Brazilian Banana Bonanza Barbie, clearly inspired by Ms. Miranda). As I sat on my blue yoga mat, I said out loud, “I love Carmen Miranda!” Richard reached into a glass bowl and miraculously pulled out a slip of paper with my name on it. The people sitting near me were amazed. So was I.

Last week, during a grapevine to Madonna’s song Holiday, he made direct eye contact with me and mouthed “I love you”. Richard has the ability to make you feel like the only person in the room, that you are truly unique and special to him. That is why he’s become a father figure to me. He inspires me to be a better person, to do my work with passion and never forget to have fun. Happy Father’s Day, Richard Simmons!

We’re celebrating Father’s Day by celebrating leaning into fatherhood and by recognizing the extraordinary men that are our own fathers. We hope that it will inspire you to thank your own dad or the dad who most inspires you. Find more letters and stories about leaning into parenthood here. And, of course, find your own Lean In inspiration at LeanIn.org.

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