When I was in fourth grade there were three Davids in the class: Schmidt, Long, and Greenberger. In order to avoid classroom confusion, Schmidt was called David, Long became Dave, and I was Davy. That was the only time when I was called Davy with any regularity or serious conviction. I didn’t relish it, but I didn’t despise it either; I merely accepted it. I assumed such problem solving was a hallmark of the grown-up world. My grandmother even gave me a gift of a black sweatshirt with white letters diagonally across the front reading “Davy.” People would drive by and call out my name and I’d wonder both how they knew my name and why they were using this nickname that I didn’t feel was truly mine.
The temporary application of that nickname brought a theory to my nine-year-old mind, one I titled The Three Phases of My Life. I felt like I was stepping into the realm of adult thinking. I saw it as clearly as a three-panel comic strip. In the first phase I was Davy. Next, I’d be a serious college student somewhere beyond the borders of my local area, and I’d carry a briefcase and I’d be David. In the third phase – which I see now from my middle-aged vantage point to be an entire range of phases itself – I pictured myself as the friendly neighbor next door. I’d be out mowing the lawn and washing the car on weekends; this would be my Dave Phase. Reflecting back on this I see I never included old age. The extent of conceptualizing adulthood stopped at the age in which the fathers of my friends resided.
I was influenced by the ways that my parents measured and notated time. My father was an engineer and my mother is a pianist who has chronicled our family with scrapbooks filled with photographs, ephemera, and data. My own interests and inclinations about measuring time grew out of that environment and came to inform part of my own identity.
In bed at night I’d think about measuring time in a pattern I’d assumed I would repeat over and over through my life. I’d complete grade school, and in moving on to seventh grade, the pattern would begin again. In another six years I would be 18 and done with the schooling phase of my life. By the time I turned 36, I had doubled that age. And though much had happened in that second go-round, the defining change was the appearance of Norabelle.
For the past 30 years of my life I’ve been the father of a daughter. I was around for more than three decades before Norabelle was born. I felt like a complete person, an adult who went places, did things, made things. I had friends, and was known in some circles as an artist. All of these events and experiences I carry, but they are not weighted the same as the ones that came after her arrival. In a couple years I’ll have lived as long with her in my life as in the time before she was born. As she reaches various ages and milestones I think of where I was at that age. Time in front of me is unpredictable. With the greater part of my life behind me, I have ever more overlays with which to carry on the intellectual and emotional process of comparing time spans.
She bends time. She doesn’t know it, but her mere presence in my life speeds it up and slows it down. I was her measure of time – in fact I explained time to her, or at least clocks and calendars. There was a brief period when she knew about numbers but didn’t fully understand the meaning of the incremental segments of hours, minutes, and seconds. On a car trip she took it upon herself to monitor the changes in the digital clock on the dashboard, writing each down as it happened (“Three, two dots, four one. Three, two dots, four two…”). Eventually she had new measures of her own: the length of year of college, the span of the entire college experience, the time it takes a train to cross Mongolia, a year working in Paris and how long it would be until she returned to these shores, to Russell and a new phase of her life in New York City.
I moved from Boston to Saratoga Springs when I turned thirty. Now she is 30 and I am the father of the bride. I’ve gone from knowing everything about her to not knowing. But it’s not a loss for me. There is a beautiful calm in seeing the child I carried as just part of the sweet mystery of her as an adult. It’s the nature of us being two separate people. I have my measures of time and she now has hers.
(Artist David Greenberger lives in Greenwich, NY www.davidgreenberger.com @davidbg)