The Cake Is A Lie


Almost twenty years ago my mom took my sister and I to visit my dad on his birthday. We took him to lunch, and then went back to his office to enjoy the birthday cake we’d brought with us. Dad, enjoying the opportunity to share his family with his co-workers, reveled in cutting the cake. With a flourish he put the knife point into the cake, and slid the blade along. He frowned for a moment, and then repeated the process, looking even more perplexed. After a third attempt to cut the cake he said aloud “What the hell…?”

And so began a decades long tradition in my family: the foam cake. An oblong piece of foam is decorated to look like a birthday cake, but is impossible to cut and serve. At first it feels like the knife is cutting the cake, albeit with a little more resistance than one might normally experience, but that first feel quickly gives way to the truth that the cake is not being cut at all. It’s really confusing to anyone who hasn’t experienced it before, and even if you have experienced it before you’re often not expecting it when it’s your cake.

My dad waited a couple years after mom first sprang the foam cake on him, but he returned the favor and then some. On and off the fake cakes were bandied back and forth, in more elaborate and unexpected presentations. Dad’s best delivery was when he took mom to a fancy restaurant for her birthday, and asked the waiter “Say, you guys don’t serve cake at all, by chance?” The waiter promptly brought out a small beautifully decorated cake. Little did mom know that dad had personally delivered that fake cake to the restaurant earlier that day. What I wouldn’t have given to see the look on her face when she realized what she’d been served. Dad also got a terrific double whammy on mom when he not only threw her a huge surprise birthday party, but managed to serve her a fake cake at that party, too!

I think my parents only tried to spring the fake cake on me one time, the year I graduated high school. I don’t know what it was that made me suspicious, but I refused to cut the cake when handed the knife. Maybe mom or dad were grinning just a little too much, maybe I picked up on the excited anticipation from the assembled on-lookers. Whatever it was, I knew I was being offered a fake cake.

On Saturday we had a joint birthday party for Josie and me. Josie enjoyed discovering and eating her cake, and a second cake was brought out for me.

A fake cake was the farthest thing from my mind.

Angela had been planning the fake cake with my dad since Easter, and they executed it flawlessly. I was so surprised to have fallen for it! Angela had a perfect cover story for why a second cake was needed at all, and dad managed to discretely inform most of the guests of the surprise without making me suspicious. They got me good!

It was a terrific surprise, and the smiles and laughs all around made it worth losing my perfect reputation for spotting fake cakes. I’ll have you all know, however, that my guard will be up next year!

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