When I was 12 I was the wrongest I’ve ever been, and it was my father’s fault.

I was in 8th grade, and we were still taking “new math.” It had been very new the year before, when we started it and junior high. It carried the initials SMSG, and we soon decided that stood for “some math some garbage.” It opened with set theory.

New or old, in 8th grade we took geometry, and we got into dimensions. We all agreed about length, width and depth: no problem there. It was the announcement that time was the 4th dimension that created the rift between me and the rest of the class.

I didn’t buy it. It just seemed wrong. I took my puzzlement home to my father and he supported me without a pause.

“No,” we insisted. And how could my fellows argue with that? It’s kind of like describing a color.

Slowly they or time itself slapped at me. Gradually I came to understand how critical time is in specifying existence. Some unannounced months later Dad came around too, but I don’t think we ever discussed how incorrect we’d been.

I have no doubt I would have understood sooner if I hadn’t been defending my father. But I have no complaint either. I think my wrongness helped me comprehend time in a way I wouldn’t have if I’d gracefully accepted it. And what the heck: other than time, and how to pronounce “via” and “piety,” Dad was just about always correct.

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