One of the central attractions in the city of Prague is the clock tower in the main square. There is a certain irony that vacationers, supposedly freed from clock watching, are drawn to this tower clock.
They arrive five minutes before each hour to stare upward at the moving hands and the parade of carved wooden puppets that mark each changing hour. Tours guides offer stern warnings that the area near the tower is notorious for petty crime. While tourists are transfixed by the clock and its puppets, pickpockets help themselves to money, passports and yes, watches.
The tradition of village clock towers evolved from the practice of having a man stand guard to keep watch and periodically ring a bell to mark the hour. The name of that profession is the origin of the watch we now wear on our wrist.
Timepieces gradually moved from the public clocks of the middle ages, to clocks inside the home, to pocket watches, to ones now strapped on our arm, getting closer to us all the time. While convenience has advantages, we no longer enjoy the communal reminder of passing time.
Time is an important topic for Father’s Day. This week’s newspaper ads show this deep connection.
From Timex to Rolex, wristwatches are the number one gift for Dad. It may be the perfect gift too. Fatherhood is a short season and it flies by.
My father died when he was 56 and I was 18. His death was sudden and unexpected. It wasn’t until I crossed the 50 threshold that I understood that my father had died young. I knew, of course, that I was young when he died, but now I understand that he was young too.
Time was an important part of my father’s life. He was an industrial engineer, a “time and motion study man”. His work was about efficiency and calculation. He carried a clipboard and wore an elegant gold Hamilton watch.
Whether due to nature or nurture, I too have an overly developed sense of time. I multi-task, write daily to-do lists, and I lust after organizing systems. But I also resist being tethered to time. Maybe it’s because I watched my father save so much time, which he never got a chance to use, that I have a love/hate relationship with “time management”.
My own calendar shocks people. It’s an oversized month-at-a-glance book in which I track tasks by scribbling through the borders and across the lines intended to demarcate the days. Each month’s page becomes an abstract work of scribbles and swirls and then it’s torn away. I don’t look back.
Death isn’t the only way that dads go missing from their kid’s lives. Divorce or drinking can do it too, but most often it’s work. That’s not new. Fathers of the 1950’s didn’t come to school plays or Girl Scout ceremonies; Mom went to those things and told Dad about it at dinner.
Are today’s Dads wiser? It seems so. Last year fathers reported spending four hours a day with their kids, compared with just 2.7 hours in 1965. But I wonder, are those hours together real leisure and pleasure or are we multi-tasking the homework and the errands with the quality time?
It’s a cliché to say how fast childhood goes and how fast fatherhood disappears too, but it’s true.
With our lists and calendars-- and even our watches—we can pick our own pockets. In trying to better organize them our lives can be stolen away.
Next week summer begins. Will the livin’ be easy? Or will we tick it off and time it out? Fathers, keep watch. Just look at the time.
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