What is the meaning of a gift?

By Matt, Artist, Engineer, Dad

As the father of two young children I think frequently about how my actions and views shape the way they interact with the world and with others. As they grow and discover the world, it is clear that they are full of wonder...and questions. Watching them makes me think a lot about life, family, and the values I’d like to instill in them. One question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is “what is the value of a gift?” What makes a gift meaningful to the recipient and to the giver?

I like “stuff” as much as the next person. However, as I watch my kids, it is clear that the best gifts are not “stuff”. Rather they are time and experiences. To the kids all “stuff” costs the same. But they love spending the day exploring a zoo, climbing rocks, lingering over lunch, or building a snowman together. Sure, they like getting “stuff” but already they seem to cherish experiences and time with people they love more. I’ve also noticed that they take great care in preparing gifts for people.

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So what is the value of a gift?

I gave the first wordclock I built to my father. I spent countless hours designing the concept, learning to use the tools to fabricate it, and figuring out how to build the electronics. I made multiple test jigs, prototypes, and iterations before settling on the final clock that I gave him. He LOVES it. It was a totally unique, priceless gift to him. Today, nearly everyone that sees it hanging in his home comments on it. They can see how proud he is to have received it. He knows the gift was my effort to develop it for him.

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Wordclock version 1.0 hangs on the wall at my father’s house.

My parents are able to buy themselves anything that they need. They also have a smaller house than I do and don’t have endless storage space. So unless it's some unique item I’ve stumbled across, they’ve already bought whatever “stuff” they might want that I could afford to buy for them. What gift can I get for them that they would really appreciate or cherish? I’ve realized something kids seem to feel intuitively: that “time” and “thought” are the true gifts.

The wordclock I designed for my father has evolved into the design that I’m now selling as a limited edition. I craft each clock in my basement workshop. The grains of the solid block of wood, in which I carve the clock’s body, give each one its own distinctive fingerprint. I hope that each recipient of my clocks can appreciate the time and I thought I put into each one.

Crafting the wordclocks, has given me an excuse to invest in some interesting tools. In turn, I’ve been able to use them for cool projects with my kids. Already they’ve been “helping” me design and fabricate gifts for their little cousins and friends. Maybe this is cheating since I get to receive the gift of building things with them, but I can think of no better use of time or investment. They are so proud when they can give a gift that they themselves crafted. What began as an artistic engineering project has become so much more. I hope that by sharing my creative gift-giving experience, I can inspire others to explore ways in which gift-giving is meaningful to them and to their loved ones.

Check out our Etsy shop for a selection of other gift projects I’ve designed, with the help of my kids.