“Dad, I need help with math,” my twelve-year-old boy said.
“I’m on it,” I said. “Come here and let me impart my wisdom to you, my boy. What kind of math are we doing?”
“Finding the area of a triangle. But not a regular triangle.”
“Hm, yes, irregular triangles are a concern,” I said. “Are we talking hippy triangles? Maybe ones that believe the earth is flat, unlike a triangle. You can’t talk any sense into them, son. There is no use trying to figure it out.”
I could see by my son’s confused look. He is still ignorant to the cruelty of the world. Alas, he is an innocent and it hardens my heart that I must be the one to show him.
“No, I mean a triangle that isn’t a right angle. An isosceles triangle,” he said.
“Don’t you use that kind of language around your mother, boy!” He has gotten uppity as he has acquired more knowledge.
With the kids now home, I have become their teacher. I have begun growing a long beard and wearing a pointed hat. I call myself Gonsel the Wise and usher in the great minds of our age.
I also eat donuts.
I cover many subjects with my kids during the day. With the older one, we are working on the theory of western expansion and how the great eagles often carried settlers across the midwestern desert. My youngest, who is seven, needs help with something called Kids Zearn or Zearn Kids, I’m not sure because he won’t let me touch his computer. And my middle child, this one, needs help with the scourge of the weirdo triangles.
“Can you help?” he pleads. So sweet.
“Of course, I can!” I tell him. Somewhere outside, a rainbow is born. “What’s the formula for the area of an isosceles triangle?” I ask him. Oh, I defiantly know but I can’t give away my knowledge for free. It’s one half the distance to the sun divided by the spirit of capitalism.
“It’s base times height divided by two.” This is what is called new math. I suppose it will have to do.
He hands me a piece of paper with his calculations. I consider calling Harvard to see if they want to get in on this. There are a lot of numbers on it and Harvard loves some numbers.
“Wait, show me the triangle first, if you please.” He does and I must admit that it has a very isosceles look about it. It’s in the shape of a protest sign. It sits inconspicuously in the middle of a rectangle, or as he would call it, a parallelogram. My son is also very good at Latin. There are numbers all around it, with a dashed line and a small box next to that.
“I know the base of the rectangle, it’s labeled, but I can’t figure out the height? The dotted line has no number?”
“Ah yes, I see. I’m afraid, my boy, that you are asking the wrong question!” I said.
“Don’t ask what the height is of the triangle. Ask why the man wishes to trick you in the first place!”
“The MAN! They are the ones that refuse to give simple numbers to simple little regular triangles. They hide those numbers behind other numbers! It’s a trick, I say! A trick!”
This is my role in life, to guide my son. As a father, it’s a duty that I take very seriously. “Damn the man!” I said to him.
“Should I go ask mom?”
“Only if you want to see her cry, son.”
Obviously, I am right. Before you find the area of a triangle, you must examine the motivations of those that asked you to find it. Is this for some weapon of mass destruction? Are they crowdsourcing a new energy source through my son’s calculations? You see, it’s the motivations.
“How do I find the height?” he asked.
“By looking at the big picture! They expect you to only see a slice of the pie, not the whole creamy goodness all at once. The triangle sits within a bigger conspiracy. They are trying to trick you! A dirty rotten trick with a dirty rotten triangle. That’s why they didn’t give you the number!”
“So what is it, then?”
With a deep breath, filled with years of knowledge, I prepare to give him the answer. It begins with a tale of an epic quest…
“Oh, wait. I see. The height line is exactly half of the side of the rectangle. That means that the height of the triangle is 1/2 of the rectangle. I’ve got that!”
“Um, yes. Yes, of course, that is it!”
He quickly does the calculations while I YouTube it for posterity.
“Thanks, dad,” he says. “You make math fun, but I miss my teachers. They get to the point quicker.”
He runs away, and his future is laid out before him. For my part in it, although small, is enough for me.
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