Monday, September 20, 2010

Monster Dad vs. Time

For nearly as long as I can remember I've had a rough relationship with the concept of Time. I know it's something real, and I know I can't do anything to stop it ("Time stands still for no man"), but still I hurl my anger at it--much like Don Quixote forever tilting at windmills. Unlike Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, Time is definitely NOT on my side.

I'm not exactly sure when my realization that Time was against me occurred, but it was certainly much too early in life. I'd venture to say that many people don't really start thinking and worrying about Time until they're nearing, or passing, midlife. In my case it's been something haunting me since childhood. The first real example I can remember was when my grandfather died while I was in the second grade. It's the first time death touched me personally. To be honest I think I was a bit too young to really understand what was going on as we went to the funeral and everything else that was happening, but it crystallized in me the notion that we are ALL growing older (as a direct result of Time) and we are all going to die at some point because of that same shadowy Time figure. It didn't matter if you were a little kid like I was or an "old" person, like my older siblings and parents--at some point Time would catch up with you. Of course now I realize that not everyone dies of old age, but I was only in the second grade at the time, so that bit of naivete can probably be overlooked.

The death aspect of Time was the most extreme part of this phenomenon. I suppose that, because of our mortality, it all does eventually leads to that, but most of my battles with Time were over smaller matters. I distinctly recall lying in bed before the first day of school and being unable to get to sleep while trying to figure out just how Time had managed to rob me of yet another summer. Then every week during the school year would present me with the problem of Sunday. My absolute favorite part of the week was the moment I got home from school on Friday afternoon. It was the point which marked the longest amount of Time before returning to school on Monday morning. Friday night and all of Saturday were carefree zones. However Sunday night was all doom and gloom as I felt Monday creeping up on me with the help of Time. At first it was simply Sunday night that caused my dismay.But then it eventually spread earlier and earlier until I associated the entire day of Sunday with the end of the weekend. Of course that meant that late night Saturday became the moment of the beginning of the end of the weekend. Geez, if that had gone on much longer I would have been miserable for the entire weekend.

Music has only fed my fear of Time over the years. I remember, even as a kid, finding the song "Puff, the Magic Dragon" incredibly sad. It's not a sad song overall, but the line "Dragons live forever, but not so little boys" really struck me hard. It not only reflected Time's effect on children, but also hinted at another thing I find very sad--the inevitable loss of child-like imagination that comes with growing up. To this day I still have a difficult time listening to "Puff, the Magic Dragon". I know that sounds silly, but it's tough too, because I'd love to listen to it with my daughter--who likes dragons and dinosaurs--but just can't seem do it.

Listening to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" was always a gut-wrenching experience for me as a kid. "If I could save time in a bottle"--that pretty much says it all. I always wished I could do so, but knew it was impossible. I loved "The Muppet Show" when I was little, but had a hard time watching this segment which featured the song.

A little later I discovered that Pink Floyd was also well aware of the problem that is Time. Check out these lines that always get me from the song "Time" off the "Dark Side of the Moon" album.

You are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today
And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

AND (even more to the point)

And you run and you run
To catch up with the sun
But it's sinking
Racing around
To come up behind you again
The sun is the same
In a relative way
But you're older
Shorter of breath
And one day closer to death

The whole song really captures the futility I feel when thinking about Time. The Pretenders also touched on the topic with their song "Time the Avenger":

Thought that time was on your side,
Now, it's time the avenger.
Nobody is permanent,
Everything is on loan here.

Heck, even Cyndi Lauper, the girl who just wanted to have fun, sang the touching song "Time After Time". And Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" is mainly a tearjerker about a father not being there for his son, only to find out that the son eventually turns out to be "just like me". But there's no doubt that Time fuels the changes that make the song so tragic and sad. It's a sad song that has only grown sadder to me now that I'm a parent myself.

Monster Dad is obviously interested in movies, and there have been more than a few movies that I've seen which speak of the battle with Time. The following three examples deal specifically with time travel and are among my favorite movies. George Pal's "The Time Machine" (1960, remade in 2002)--based on the H.G. Wells book of the same name--isn't particularly sad, but it does show a man winning the battle against Time--at least for a while. Along the way there are certainly melancholic moments, and it culminates with the mind-boggling topic of the distant future and philosophical questions about Time itself. "Time After Time" (1979) also deals with time travel, and is also partially based on H.G. Wells' work (the main character in the movie is H.G. Wells himself--and he does battle with Jack the Ripper in modern day San Francisco). "Somewhere in Time" (1980) deals with Time and time travel in a way that makes for a very sad and touching movie.

While a truce has never been agreed upon, and true peace between the conflicting parties probably won't come about until I'm resting in peace myself, I do have to say that my battles with Time had become relatively few and far-between until recently. The passage of Time has seemingly continued to increase in speed as I have aged. Every day, week, month and year seems to pass faster than the one before it. This didn't really bother me or cause me undue stress until about five years ago--when I learned that Time and parenthood don't mix very well. The birth of my two daughters, and the process of watching them grow up before my very eyes, has reminded me of the cruelty of Time once again. I still consider my first daughter to be my "baby". But now she is almost five years old. It's so strange to look at this tall, imaginative pre-schooler, who is growing more and more every day, and try to comprehend that she was that little helpless baby we brought home from the hospital not so long ago. I'm now starting to see bits of myself as a young boy (from around the time that Time first started to become a problem for me) in her. My younger daughter is now almost a year-and-a-half old. Suddenly I'm witnessing her hit many, many milestones that I remember daughter number one doing not so long ago. It all just goes by too fast, and there's nothing I can do to stop it--or even just slow it down a little. The battle continues...


As a kid I envisioned Time as a massive machine. I guess this was my youthful mind's attempt to comprehend something as big as Time itself. This gargantuan machine (which I believe was located in a giant cave) would loudly process Time and make a product out of it (The Past). A conveyor belt would take unprocessed time (full of possibilities and potential) into the mouth of the machine. This ethereal, unprocessed time was "The Future". The main part of the machine, the part that mashed, mangled and manipulated this raw material, was "The Present". This portal represented the Now that we are all constantly living in. And the final product (or by-product if you will) of the machine's machinations, which looked much like the remnants of crushed garbage or old cars that come out of those giant compactors found at junk yards, was "The Past". We are always stuck in "The Present", as the machine processes what is happening Right Now. We can't reach the unspoiled promise of "The Future", and "The Past" is simply what we see coming out of the back end of the machine. It could be observed, but it was what it was and couldn't be changed.

Today I turned forty-one. Forty-one years have passed since I entered this world. Much has changed. Much remains the same. The one real constant seems to be that time continues to pass with little to no regard for our feelings. A year ago I turned forty. This seemed like a big number at the time, but at least I was merely a "forty-year-old". Now I'm not forty, but "in my forties". For whatever reason, that sounds worse and makes my battles with time from here on out feel more and more urgent.

And, of course, my lifelong forty-or-so year battle is less than the blink of an eye and totally inconsequential when it comes to Time...

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