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Sharing Time with Dad

by Darrell Hookey


    I giggled as I crawled into my parents' bed to awaken my father. I giggled harder, with a sing-song exuberance, as he pretended to roll over in his sleep trapping me in his warmth, his smell, his gentleness.

    Somehow, I broke free and got serious: "Mommy says its time for breakfast."

    "Unnhh," was the sound he made -- the sound I make today when reality conspires against my comfort -- "Is it really time for breakfast?" he asked as if already knowing the answer.

    As proof, he showed me this marvelous, bright object with figures around the rim and three sticks pointing in all directions. One of those sticks was moving around while the other two just sat there. There was information in this object that he could read and yet I could not. I was determined to decipher this information. I grabbed his arm to steady it so that I may study it further.

    The glimmers of a first memory fail me at this point. I can only remember snapshots and feelings. Much like the fog that enveloped me the last time I sat on my parents' bed, 36 years later.

    My mother was with me as we went through my father's nightstand. "Is there anything you want to remember your father by?" she had asked.

    I don't remember anything else in that little drawer. I still felt I should not be going through his things. It was yet another feeling I had to get used to. But I do remember seeing his watch. Not so bright and the sweep hand stood still, but it was just as marvelous.

    My father had worn this watch when he had cut me out of the tree that had snagged my knee between its gnarly limbs. He wore it as he clapped heartily after I recited a poem in front of the entire village of Holtyre, Ontario: "Because I am so little, I don't have much to say; except one line perhaps, have a happy Christmas day."

    He wore it at the father-and-son Cub dinner; he wore it when he built an ice rink for his four boys ... to be enjoyed by any kid in town. And he wore it when he helped wash my hands with lots of soap under a stream of water that was just warm enough.

    Picking past all of the other watches he had worn over the years, I reached for this watch (our watch) as moistening eyes caused my hands to appear pink, pudgy and small for just a flash. A trick of the memory that also gleaned up a long-lost treasure.

    It didn't work anymore.

    "Fine, I'll have it fixed."

    It didn't have a watch band.

    "Fine, I'll buy a watch band."

    It needs to be wound every morning.

    "Fine, I'll wind it."

    It doesn't tell you the date or the time in Tokyo or the wind direction.

    "It's all fine, it's my dad's watch. It is my connection to a man who was great because he was so good for so long."

    His name was Ronald Hookey. He served his country in the air force. He never knowingly hurt another person. He never lied nor stole nor allowed his family to want for much.

    I reflect on these things as I sit on the edge of my own bed, every morning, winding dad's watch. By the next morning it will have lost two minutes, but I just consult my computer's clock that is synchronized three times a day with the atomic clock at an American navy research station. Then I add a minute so I won't be too far off.

    My dad was slow, too. The medication he took every day, since a brain tumor was removed 32 years ago, did that to him. But he would just get up two hours earlier every morning to be ready for work. And each night he would collapse on the bed having given all that he could to keep a paycheque coming in.

    Just like that Timex, he kept on ticking. Steady, quietly, dependably. Living a beat slower than the rest became a part of my father's personality. He didn't rush jobs. He cleaned as he went. He organized at every opportunity.

    Today, as I wear my father's watch, I find myself slowing down as well. It is the good kind of slowness. I like to think of it as the careful, methodic slowness of a craftsman. As I catch sight of the watch out of the corner of my eye, I am reminded of the intricate collection of pulleys, tumblers and levers, powered by a coiled spring, that keep the hour hand and the minute hand moving at the speed required for the job.

    It is a pause that leads me to check over my work one more time; to put things away before I move on. The right speed for the right job. Just like my watch. Just like my dad.

    I had a coffee with a friend the other day. Sam Holloway is grizzled and opinionated and has a poet's heart. He would understand what this watch means to me. Sam would understand I wore my dad's watch to aspire to his goodness. It is the journey that counts and this watch reminds me of that philosophy every morning as I wind it.

    I tried to tell Sam about my earliest memory of crawling into my parents' bed ... Of giggling and crawling into his bed ...

    A tear was being tugged from my eye. My voice was blocked. The watch wasn't a watch anymore ... it was the very essence of my father ... a kindly ghost who loved me no matter what. He always pretended to still be asleep ...

    I changed the subject. Sam understood.

    Father's Day will be bittersweet for me from now on. I am just glad I have the watch that is not so much from my father, but rather of my father.

    When you see me, please, ask me what time it is. I will be happy to share it with you.