01/05/2012 12:13 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2012

An Ivy League of His Own

We tease my father because he wears a Harvard University sweatshirt when he does yard work. My mother found it at a thrift shop. It's tattered at the cuffs and the lettering is faded.

He wears it with pride. Yard work is yard work, and in a bizarre way it's fitting to be wearing an Ivy League sweatshirt when you're trimming the ivy.

My father never went to Harvard. He briefly attended New York University at night on the GI bill when he got out of the Navy, but he was working full-time and had little time for his studies.

So he dropped out, and believe me when I say he went out in style. Here's how he tells it:

"I sat down to take my final exam, and I took one look at the questions and knew I would flunk. So I never handed in my test paper. I tossed it in the garbage on my way out of the classroom."

That's that, he thought, but about a week later he got a letter from NYU telling him he'd passed the exam!

"They must have thought they lost the test," my father says with a shrug, "so they gave me a 'B.' "

That test marked the end of his formal education, and the start of his true education.

Always artistic, he taught himself to draw and paint well enough to become an art director at the Young & Rubicam advertising agency. He worked there for 48 years and toward the end of his career, he also designed a brilliant newspaper headline game called "Man Bites Dog."

It's been selling around the world for twelve years, and it's a real kick in the pants -- cards are dealt with nouns, verbs and adjectives of varying values, and the players compete to create the best headlines.

This week my father and his fellow "Man Bites Dog" creators, Michael Shain and Mike Pearl of the New York Post, got an interesting request for permission to use promotional videos for their card game as part of an educational program.

Ready for this? The request comes from Harvard University.

Hot damn. It took a couple of years, but reality finally caught up with my father and his sweatshirt.

I was blown away by the news. My father was not. People who grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression are not easily blown away.

"It's crazy, isn't it?" my father says with a chuckle. "It's just a cute little game for young people. It's laughable!"

Nevertheless Anthony Carillo, a proud alumnus of Franklin K. Lane High School, class of 1943, graciously gave his blessing to help those educators molding the country's most promising minds at America's oldest, most prestigious university.

Why not? As they say in Brooklyn: "Ayyy, what have you got to lose?"

Anyway, my father turns 86 next month, so I'm guessing he's too set in his ways to get worked up about the big game against Yale.

But for once, I know exactly what to get him for his birthday.

A new Harvard sweatshirt. One that'll carry him through the winter and be well-worn by springtime, when it's time once again to trim the ivy.

Charlie Carillo's first two published novels, Shepherd Avenue and My Ride With Gus are available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents. His website is He's a producer for the TV show Inside Edition.