Ric Federico’s obsession with time began after his dad gave him his first wristwatch.
I was 9 or 10 when dad gave me my first wristwatch, a wondrous thing with a Hot Wheels logo and pictures of little cars all over the face. Not long after, I scored a Big Ben wind-up alarm clock for my nightstand, complete with annoying bells and glow-in-the-dark numbers. As a teenager I graduated to one of the precursor “digital” clocks, with the numbers on little cards that flipped over like a Rolodex (yeah, I’m dating myself with that one). And as my timepieces changed so grew my obsession with time: how to measure, monitor, plan, and put to use those fleeting ticks of the clock.
By high school one of my more creative friends had nicknamed me Chronos. You may have heard of Chronos, one of the fourteen primordial deities in Greek mythology and a real fun-loving, three-headed serpentine kind of guy who spent his days turning the Zodiac Wheel. This was never one of my favorite images, so despite my affinity for the cool-sounding name, I was relieved when some of the mythologically challenged members of my circle began using the more earthy tag, “Father Time.” He’s classically depicted as a wise old man with a long, gray beard who dodders around with a scythe and hourglass—this as a nickname for a 15-year-old boy who by then sported a serious timepiece fixation.
My sophomore year, I had third period Algebra in a room with no wall clock. We were supposed to break five minutes before the bell so we could head to the cafeteria for lunch. The problem was that our teacher—a dear, dedicated woman who genuinely loved both the subject and her students—tended to get so involved in what she was talking about that she lost track of time. After a couple of late lunches, she asked who among us had a watch and could let her know when it was time for lunch. Who else but Father Time—scythe, Timex hourglass and all? It was my first official timekeeping gig.
Later in life, as a military police officer, I kept a patrol log documenting where I went and how long I spent there. Nowadays, as an environmental consultant, I bill clients for my time (“selling brain power by the hour” as our CEO is fond of saying), meaning I have to document what I do with every quarter-hour increment of every day. I’ve been doing this for sixteen years now; accounting for vacations, I’ve parceled my consulting career into 128,000 quarter-hour units.
But nothing has challenged me to see time in its myriad guises like having a family. With multiple lives playing out in close quarters and the demands of work often bumping (or crashing) hard against personal responsibilities, I began, albeit slowly, to see time in a different light.
When my children were infants, they cried when they wanted or needed something—they cared nothing of the clock or what the next day’s schedule might hold. As toddlers, they wanted to play without regard for the looming business presentation. As they got older, they needed to be on time for the big game or concert and had a reasonable expectation to see dad in the crowd. And the important needs of my wife could only be sacrificed so many times on the altar of trivial urgencies.
It is under such pressures that I found myself grasping at the straw of “managing time.” I’m no stranger to that game, having used a Day Timer, a Palm, Outlook, and now a smart phone. But despite these tools and tons of expended energy, I really don’t think I’m “managing” my time much more efficiently now than I did using that first Hot Wheels watch.
Time is a human construct, a functional tool to be sure—but a tool nonetheless. And as such, it is a fabrication, an agreed-upon illusion enforced in an attempt to confine and restrain the unknown. I’ve come to believe that the concept of time represents our quest to impose order on what we don’t understand and therefore perceive (and fear) as chaos. Just as confining a river to a concrete channel rarely works, I don’t think we can plan, capture, confine, or manage those basic components that comprise a life: the moments, good or bad, in which we experience whatever it is that makes us who we are and that form the basis of who we are becoming.
I admit that all these deep waters have me fondly recalling a simpler time. Maybe I’ll take a few minutes and see if I can find one of those old Hot Wheels watches on eBay.