DEAR ABBY: I have never written you before, but the letter you printed from "Dismayed Grandmother" in Laredo, Texas, brought back memories. I couldn't have been more than 8, and it was my father's birthday. There were flowers on his birthday cake, and he said to me, "Smell the flowers. Go ahead, smell the flowers!" I hesitated, but he insisted, so I bent over the cake to smell the flowers and he pushed my face into the frosting.
I am now 72, and I still remember how it felt to be deceived and humiliated by my father. Other people in the room may have been laughing, but I wasn't. My father thought he was being funny. Instead, he lost his daughter's love and trust that day. -- WISHES HE HADN'T IN SAN DIEGO
DEAR WISHES HE HADN'T: As I said in my reply to "Dismayed Grandmother," I have never found humor at the expense of others to be funny. In fact, I consider it cruel, hostile, and a form of bullying. That a parent would tolerate, much less participate in, the humiliation of his or her child is an appalling breach of trust. Your reaction proves the truth of my statement.
Read on, because the letter to which you referred brought in some interesting mail.
DEAR ABBY: The same thing happened to me. The person who did it was my former father-in-law. He thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. Surprisingly, however, when HIS birthday rolled around, it wasn't so funny anymore. Imagine that! -- LAWRENCE IN QUEEN CREEK, ARIZ.
DEAR ABBY: You missed the boat on the face-in-the-birthday-cake letter. Here in Mexico it is common -- nay, usual -- for the birthday boy or girl (or man or woman) to have his or her face pushed into the cake. After the candles are blown out, the birthday person is supposed to take a little bite of the cake with his or her mouth -- not using any utensils -- for good luck. It is usually when the person's face is near the cake that someone standing behind him or her pushes their face into it.
I assume that's what happened at the party the grandmother attended, since it was from Laredo, Texas, which is on the border with Mexico. I personally do not enjoy being pushed into the cake (as I have been on several occasions), and yes, some kids do cry when it happens. But it's all done in fun, and I believe it's important to be a good sport about it.
Whether this tradition should or should not be continued is debatable -- but frankly, you are not the one who should be debating (or criticizing) it. When you referred to this custom as a form of "bullying," you were speaking from a U.S. cultural perspective. You and the letter writer may have been "aghast" out of cultural ignorance -- just as people from other countries might consider the "pinching" (ow!) that happens on St. Patrick's Day in the United States to be physical abuse. -- ROBIN IN MEXICO CITY
DEAR ABBY: Birthday parties shouldn't involve tears, and it's a shame that the boy's celebration was spoiled by this tradition. The hosts of the party should have better prepared the child for the event.
I was introduced to that birthday tradition while living and teaching in northern Mexico. It shocked me the first time it happened, but students explained that, for many children, it's an eagerly anticipated part of their birthday celebration. -- AMY IN CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA