My dad got me a car for my 16th birthday. A convertible the color of Champagne, it was exactly what I wanted.
Except I couldn't fit in it. Because it was on top of a cake.
Dad is a funny guy, always pretending he isn't going to make anything special. Whatever, Dad. For a man who says he hates surprises, he sure loved to surprise me and my sister. And like a secret birthday elf, he mysteriously worked on these cakes, hiding them until the moment he unveiled his elaborate creations.
After years of Pizza Hut birthday parties complete with Hy-vee (the Midwestern version of Publix) cartoon character cakes, Dad decided to get creative. And show us that you're never too old for a slice of silliness.
This was before Pinterest. Each cake came from his heart, and reflected our current obsessions, like the band Green Day, Red Sox baseball, that forgotten internet game Neopets, and alcohol.
My 21st birthday cake came surrounded by 21 mini vodka bottles, with candles melted on top of each one. By the time my younger sister turned 21, my dad's Cake Boss-esque confidence had grown. He searched thrift stores and online shops for a Bud Light tap to make a giant "keg" cake. And of course it was served in red Solo cups.
Even the years Dad phoned it in — like his cowboy cake that had a belt buckle and a hat from a Toy Story Woody doll plopped on top, or my 18th birthday cake with voter registration paperwork on it — he still showed off his commitment to humor.
For us, this silly tradition tasted better than any storebought cake, although the marble sponge (our favorite flavor) did come from a box. It didn't matter that it wasn't made with decadent ingredients, because it was made with love.
That two-layer chocolate-frosted marble cake that came with my Sweet 16 car? It also had two cop cars, plastic toy soldiers surrounding the vehicles, and a helicopter strung from the ceiling fan.
I still have that toy convertible on my desk at home. And I still prefer a clever box-mix cake from Dad. If only he could figure out how to ship one here.
Contact Brittany Volk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @bevolk.