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Nuggets of Wisdom From an Unconventional Father

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I was blessed with an unconventional father, although I must admit the blessing sometimes felt like a curse. He was a nice guy and people loved him because he was always fun to be around. But when I was younger, I longed for more of a Ward Cleaver-type father. My dad owned a restaurant, worked nights, smoked, gambled and drank too much. Life was one big party and he always made things interesting. I certainly learned a lot from him about what not to do I also picked up several useful nuggets along the way.

1. Don't let fashion trends (or color blindness) affect your sense of style.
My dad had self-confidence. He never seemed worried about what people thought of him and this was particularly evident in the way he dressed -- which wasn't exactly hip. I guess I can forgive him for his look in the 1970s -- the last decade in which he could have been considered stylish. The problem was, he hung on to many of his ugly shirts from that era and continued to wear them for decades. And this was before retro was considered cool. I remember cleaning out Dad's closet after he died and laughing at the shirts he still had hanging there. They now reside in my closet. Dad was also color blind, and when left to his own devices, the results were disastrous. I remember one time he came to see me at work, and I was watching for him from my office window (which overlooked the building's atrium). He was easy to spot that day -- white loafers, yellow slacks and a bright red v-neck sweater. I almost died. As I decided whether or not I should meet him at security or come up with a "No, he's not my father" plan, he approached security and I could see them all laugh. I was convinced they were laughing at him. By the time I got down there, the guards and Dad were fast friends and I was (shamefully) embarrassed. For months after his visit, the security men would ask me how my dad was. He always made an impression, that's for sure.

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2. If you're going to use your dad as a reference, be sure to tell him.
Once upon a time, I applied to the FBI (White Collar Crime Division) and didn't tell a soul because I didn't expect to get the job. Lo and behold, I made it through the application process and was called into the Miami bureau for an interview. I still hadn't revealed this to anyone, because I wasn't confident of my chances. During the interview, the agent I met with called all my references in front of me, on speaker phone. People's reactions to being contacted by the FBI were varied and quite comical, but my dad's was the funniest. Ed McGrath was a fast talker, with a colorful past. When he discovered who was calling, he spun a legendary tale about how Mr. McGrath was not home and wouldn't be for quite some time. Meanwhile, his daughter sat in the agent's office, red-faced, because she'd already indicated to her interviewer that the man on the phone was indeed her father. What unfolded over the next couple minutes was the most elaborate, yet clumsy, execution of backpedalling that I'd ever heard. Dad was many things, suave was not one of them. I did not get the job.

3. Don't be afraid of hard work -- or delegation.
My dad was a hard worker, although not around the house, where his household responsibilities were doled out to his kids (but we were certainly paid for a job well done). To be clear, my dad did not like to work, but if he had a job to do, he did it. He always managed to earn a paycheck. Even years after he no longer owned his own business and his savings had run out, he found legitimate ways to make a living and get health insurance. He held no airs about the type of work it was, either. The man knew how to survive. I never worried about my dad.

4. If you can't beat them, join them.
My dad could fit in anywhere, no situation intimidated him. Even if he was in over his head, he never let it show. He read multiple papers every day, and was always up to date on political affairs, stock prices and sports scores. He was always reading. He could hang with anyone. Over the years, there were a number of people who let my dad down or bested him at business or gambling, but he rarely held grudges and whenever he'd cross a nemesis's path, he'd always buy them a drink.

5. Real men cry.
My dad was a weeper. He had no qualms about crying if something moved him. Over the years, I saw my dad shed many tears, and somehow he always ended up laughing after (or while) he cried. It was the craziest thing. I'd look over and see him crying at a family event, and he'd see the "seriously?" look on my face and start laughing, even with tears still rolling down his face. As I stood at the alter on my wedding day, I could barely hear the priest speak over my dad's sobs.

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6. You never give up on your team.
My dad was born and raised in Boston and he harbored a love for Boston sports teams like no other. Even after we moved to Florida, he still got The Boston Globe so he could keep up on his teams. With the exception of the Celtics, the '80s were a tough time for Boston fans, but he never gave up. I saw my dad shed many a tear over the Red Sox. It breaks my heart that he passed before they finally won the World Series again (and again and again!).

7. Unconventional gifts are the best.
My dad was so proud of me when I received my Master's Degree. Do you think he gave me a string of pearls, a new car or a big fat check for my graduation? Nope. He took me parasailing -- and it was amazing and unforgettable. Every time I see someone parasailing at the beach, I think about my dad and how much fun we had that day -- and that's a gift that keeps on giving.

Most of all, my dad taught me unconditional love. That man stood by me through everything, even at times when I didn't deserve his love. And that is the most important lesson of all, one I hope to pass down to his grandchildren.