California Forum

Struggling to find the right birthday wish

The Tallahassee Democrat

“Happy birthday, you’re not just a year older but a year better.”

My wife celebrated a special birthday this year so I searched for the best birthday wish I could find. I hoped to avoid the typical clichés. Of course none of the lazy methods I typically employed would work such as:

“Happy Birthday!!!!!!!” (The extra exclamation points for added emphasis may not work)

“HBD” (A legitimate criticism – You can’t even write it out?)

Birthday wishes afford a special opportunity to celebrate. We wish for someone to have a life filled with love. We want to acknowledge different moments in life’s journey.

“You brought happiness to the world.”

“Just watching you grow up brings pure joy.”

“Today is the start of a 365-day journey around the sun, enjoy the trip.”

Birthdays can also be a time we become philosophical and pensive.

“This is a new start, a fresh beginning, a chance for a do-over.”

“May the best of your past be the worst of your future.”

Birthdays often commemorate milestones in our lives. At 16 we celebrate because we can get a driver’s license. At 18 we are considered adults in legal terms and can register to vote – but I wonder if that’s significant with youth voting often only at a 20 percent participation rate.

And of course at 21 one we can legally buy alcohol, provoking classic wishes.

“Congratulations, you can officially throw away that fake ID.”

“You only turn legal once so let’s party.”

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”

Culturally, specific birthdates bring good luck, part of a coming of age. Jews acknowledge young girls at 12 (bat mitzvah) and boys at 13 (bar mitzvah); they are considered mature and invited to join community.

“May the Torah bless you. Mazel tov.”

In cultures with a Spanish influence, traditionally the girls on their 15th birthday celebrate a quinceanera, a transition to adulthood.

“A child at 14, a woman at 15. Hope it’s maravilloso. Felicidades.”

Chinese and Japanese cultures utilize a 12-year zodiac cycle; your birth year is assigned a specific animal.

“2016 – the year of the monkey – you are smart, witty, flexible, adventurous and optimistic!”

For many women in our society, they live in an unfair double standard of aging: a bias against older women. Sexist attitudes claim that men age gracefully, become more dignified and established while women grow old and unattractive, judged by physical appearance, and can’t have it all. Today’s modern woman has to make choices with each birthday and fight this age bias. Yet they’re supposed to celebrate?

“You’re like wine and cheese as they age.”

“At least you’re not as old as you will be next year.”

“You’re not 50 but 38 with 12 years of experience.”

“Count your age, not your wrinkles.”

Birthdays at our workplace can create awkward situations.

“Happy Birthday from Bob in accounting.” (The obligatory office colleague message)

Or the wrong message can easily be misinterpreted.

“Celebrate, eat cake and get back to work.”

“Working with everyone else is a drag. You make this place special.”

Any birthday in our 60s brings a flood of “getting old” birthday greetings, some perhaps too true.

“Tell others your aches and pains are old sports injuries.”

“Another year older and wiser, except for anything that has to do with technology.”

For some, it’s a day to dread as time feels like it’s slipping by. A birthday is certainly nothing to celebrate. Do we really want to recognize the passing of time?

“Happy birthday, another year of death evasion.”

Birthdays for aging boomers (my generation as we enter our senior years) change from pure joy and celebration to more of a recognition and acknowledgment. Wild parties and adventures give way to silliness, gratitude and reflection.

“Happy to still have a birthday.”

“Count the candles and the light they give.”

“Wisdom comes with age.”

The best birthday wish is personal – from the funny and goofy to the celebratory ...

“Time to dance and sing.”

“Support wildlife, have a wild birthday party”

... to the sentimental and joyous.

“Enjoy life to the fullest.”

“The simplest things matter on this day” the romantic.

“So glad you were born.”

“To the person who means the most to me in this world.”

So my dear wife, take your pick! I really did want to wish you a happy birthday but I am trying to balance all these factors. Because we shared decades of memories...

“Happy birthday, you’re forever 29 ... or 39 ... or 49 ....take your pick!!!!!!!” (Added exclamations for emphasis).

David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and award-winning author of books, including “Epitaph for a Peach.” Contact him at