I’ve been obsessed with time for as long as I can remember. I owned a watch as soon as I was able. I was the kid who always knew the time. My friends and I had a game where we’d guess the time after playing football or a round of Risk. I usually won (the guessing game and also Risk). Somewhere inside of me is a wildly accurate timepiece connected to the great cosmic mystery of time.
It should be no surprise then that, in the past year, I’ve started getting a bit nerdy about watches. It started when I embarked upon a seemingly frivolous quest to find a watch that matched my car. Months later, I bought a 63-year-old, handmade Swiss timepiece, imported from Germany, that I must wind every night before bed. So, you know, that escalated.
The watch wasn’t wildly expensive and it’s subtle. Only watch people will “get it,” and as a piece of antiquated jewelry, no average person would mistake the well-worn case as anything special. Full disclosure: I’m unwilling to say how much I spent on the bespoke leather watch strap imported from the UK. I mean, whether it’s new controllers for a PS5 or new wheels for the project car, you can’t run stock, bruh.
Naturally, as curious kids do, my oldest daughter picked up on this new pursuit of mine. She likes to play with my vintage watch. It has a loud ticking sound that harkens back to a bygone era. All three of my kids like to hold the watch to their ears like it was a seashell whispering ocean magic, but only my daughter, a third-grader, is able to interact with the pushers to unlock the watch’s secret powers: multiple complications! Seconds. Minutes. A sweeping hand. It’s magical. I pretend to be totally comfortable with them running around the house with my watch as they use it to time different activities.
Then, I needed to buy a watch for my daughter, because, well, duh. It’s a battery-powered quartz watch, but it’s analog. No easy-reading digital for her. She wanted to learn “the proper way.” (I’d like to say I didn’t put that propaganda in her head, but I pride myself on my writing being honest. So, well, mostly my fault.) She’s not allowed to wear the watch to school, but when she gets home, she immediately puts it on. “Daddy, I put my watch on,” she’ll announce with pride.
This Christmas, my daughter handed me a small box. My daughter was beaming as I soon found myself opening a watch box. She was so excited to give me this watch. She had picked it out, sure she knew what I wanted. In that moment, my growing watch snobbery was met with my beautiful, bright-eyed daughter handing me a gift.
This watch wouldn’t be one I’d pick for myself. She got the right brand and the right color scheme. She got it on leather, instead of a metal bracelet. So much she got right, but she got the most important component, the heart of the watch, the movement, all wrong.
And I couldn’t care less.
I’ll keep this green Seiko quartz watch until this mortal body fails, and I slip into the great darkness where time ceases to have any meaning.
This new watch anchors me in time and space to a moment of innocent joy and pure love. This Christmas totem is now infused with curly hair, Taylor Swift, and the smell of girly shampoo. It’s an anchor rooting me in the good times, the best times. Even Doc Brown couldn’t design a more perfect time machine.
Why am I attaching some much significance to this gift?
Recently, my mom died. I have nothing physical that emits memories of her to which I can cling. My dad will soon pass too, and I have nothing from him either. I seek neither wealth nor luxury, things our family never had, but I’m desperate for a physical connection that could transport me back to the times of my youth when my parents were robust and full of life. Something like that green Seiko quartz watch my daughter gave me for Christmas.
Parents, I want to encourage you to find objects into which you can pour memories. Instead of buying a thing, build a thing with your kid in the garage. Don’t just order something online, go try and find it at a yard sale and drag your kids along. In this consumerist world of disposable garbage, seek out items that will endure. I’m not talking about heirloom quality things with high monetary value. I’m talking about the little things, the memories with infinite value. In a digital world, go find some real tokens of time and place. Put in the effort and make the memory. Seek out these items, not just as a way to justify collecting something, but as a way to ensure your immortality. Memories keep us alive. Spoken sentences containing tales of old memories are the surest way to live forever.
We are all going to die someday, but we can be immortal by speaking to our children through the sentimental items we leave behind. In my mind I see my daughter sitting with her own kids. She has my old vintage watch around her wrist. She fingers the loose and weathered buckle, the aged leather gives way, and a well-worn Heuer Pre-Carrera Chrono slips off her wrist. Her own daughter is asking to hear “the ticking and the tocking.” Before passing it along, she holds the watch up to her ear, a mop of curly hair nearly obscuring the pale watch face, and there’s my immortal voice.