Nuggets of Wisdom from an Unconventional Dad

dadboat 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. He wasn’t big on doling out advice (mostly because he knew I’d probably do the opposite of what he suggested), but I did gather 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 the security desk 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 guys would ask me how my dad was.  He always made an impression, that’s for sure.


  1. 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, but suave was not one of them. I did not get the job.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. On my wedding day, I could barely hear the priest speak over my dad’s sobs.


  1. You never give up on your team.

My dad was born and raised in Boston and 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!).

  1. 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.


The post originally appeared on the Huffington Post. My re-post was inspired by this week’s Finish The Sentence Friday.  This week’s sentence was “My father’s best advice was…”  This week’s hosts are listed below.  Please visit their posts and show them some love!

Kristi from Finding Ninee

Stephanie from Mommy, For Real


25 thoughts on “Nuggets of Wisdom from an Unconventional Dad”

  1. I only saw my dad cry once. It was at his father’s funeral and he tried so very hard to hold it together but he couldn’t. I am really struck therefore by the fact that your dad was a cryer. Love that he’d break out into a smile when he saw your “seriously?” face. Oh and that he took you parasailing! Fantastic. I’ve been hot air ballooning but never parasailing. Was that first photo of him – yes, the topless one, – taken then?

    1. NO – the photo was on the back of our bought – Lord know who was driving:). I was trying very hard to find the one from when we were parasailing…but ran out of time! And it was a polaroid – that was before the days of cell phone/carrying cameras around. Yes – a crier! And so was my brother-big cry-babies, but we’re Irish (and drinkers), so that probably played a role.

  2. Wow your dad sounds like he was such a cool guy. I think it’s really nice to have been taught so many things since you’ve seen him in so many situations. I love that. And I truly love that he had his own sense of style. I feel this way these days. It sounds like people really respected him as an assertive person which is really such a great quality to have. He seems like he was so sure of himself. :)

  3. Your post makes me both really really happy and also sad, Allie. I wish you’d had more time with him but I’m so glad that out of all of the non-advice that you know that he unconditionally loved you. Loves you. If I give my little boy one thing, I hope it’s that.
    I have still only seen my dad cry a few times in life and it really throws me off – it’s just not a standard for him. I also got a happy grin at your dad not caring about fashion – you’re so fashionable! Thank you huge for sharing this beautiful post with Finish the Sentence! xo

    1. Thanks Kristi. Want to know something funny? My dad would often criticize my clothes – even well into adulthood. It would just baffle me. He’d be dressed lie Rodney Dangerfield – and I’d be wearing my best Audrey Hepburn look – and he’s say something like, “Black is not a good color for you.” What?!?! Seriously. And half my wardrobe was and is black. I blame the Vodka:)! But like him, I didn’t care, cause I know I look damn good in black!

  4. AW! This is just such a great tribute and I love the authenticity of it all…

    That call in your job interview- OHMYGOSH!!

    This father of yours is one amazing figure, and I love that you took all of his qualities and gave them purpose. I also adore that although he wasn’t your Beaver family father, he was able to touch your heart in his own creative and unique ways.


  5. I’m pretty much crying here. He sounds like he was amazing, and I’m sorry for your loss of such a great man. His wisdom and legacy live on. And FBI?? You are full of many stories I still have to hear.

  6. So I have to admit that I like this post both times that I’ve read it. Your Dad was definitely larger than life, and able to connect with all kinds of people. I’m guessing that he understood intuitively how to sense what people wanted to engage with. Just see how he avoided the new car trap when celebrating with you, and picked out a fun filled day that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

    And by the way, he had an AWESOME fashion sense. Movie stars today wear what he wore. But they don’t wear it as well….

    1. Oh, Anna – you read it the first time? Thank you soooo much. I wrote it on the fly for the HP, when I was on the road last summer (for Father’s Day), and didn’t have much time/opportunity to promote it. I have save the shirts for a reason…you never know, because I have three sons!

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