Growing up, my dad was the kind of dad who let my brother and I adorn him with stuffed animals when he fell asleep on the couch covered in newspapers. The kind who always operated the sound board at our grade school programs and turned up the volume when we had solos, even though our voices squeaked. The kind who waited outside Walmart at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving for Black Friday sales on new computers.
My dad was the kind of dad who built me a Barbie dream house from scratch, and varnished the wood himself in our basement. He also practiced with his band in the basement, when he wasn’t touring the country as a sound engineer. I had a crush on one of the band members, writing “Molly Loves Mike” all over my notebooks. I loved to watch the band practice – mostly because Mike was there, but I also noticed that when my dad was drumming, he was in his element. His eyes gleamed with a light I didn’t often see. Dad didn’t have the chance to play much over the years, but he never lost his passion for music.
He went to every dance recital, musical and play. He even accompanied me on a choral trip to England in high school. I don’t remember playing sports with my dad, but I do remember taking lots of bike rides in the summers, which would end with Slurpies from 7-11. Coca-Cola Slurpies are what my dad craved most during the last days of his life.
When I found out that my dad was suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer, my husband David and I drove the seven hours from our home in Rapid City, SD, to Kearney, NE, to be by his side at the hospital.
I fed him ice chips and chocolate ice cream with a plastic soon, and because he couldn’t swallow well, the chocolate coated his lips.
“Thank you, honey,” he whispered in between bites, his hazel eyes vacant from fatigue. The man who had always taken care of me now couldn’t take care of himself. I cried at his vulnerability.
“Anything else you need, Dad?” I asked.
“I’d give anything for a Coke Slurpie,” he said, managing a wink. My husband located every Coke Slurpie store in Kearney (they have them at Casey’s and Target, in case you’re wondering) – and we brought one to the hospital daily, until the doctors restricted my dad’s fluid intake.
After a few days, my dad’s vitals stabilized, but I knew that from what the doctors were saying, the cancer would inevitably spread faster than they could cure it. I tried not to cry in the hospital room, but I couldn’t help it. My dad was distraught.
“Go home, live your life,” he urged. “There’s nothing more you can do here.”
No one knew whether my dad had weeks or months left to live, so David and I drove back to Rapid City. I cried the whole way home, leaving pieces of my heart scattered on Nebraska highways. Four days later, my dad passed away from the cancer.
My dad was the person I called on a regular basis – just to say that there was a new wasp nest forming on my patio—and what should I do? Or to talk about politics and history, his two favorite topics. Really, I could talk to him about anything. It wasn’t until a few days before he died that I realized my dad was one of my best friends.
Luckily, I had the chance that many people don’t have. I got to tell him how much I loved him, and that I appreciate all he’s done for me. “You’re one of my best friends, Dad,” I said during our last moment together. “Thanks for making my life wonderful.”