If you check out this thread that’s been burning up Twitter, you will read a story almost as long as the 6-hour ordeal the dad describes, which began when his daughter wanted some baked beans and the father, John Roderick — a.k.a. “Bean Dad” — told her to open a can and heat some up.
Said daughter, age 9, had never used a can-opener…and dad decided not not show her. He was busy with a puzzle. He would wait out the whole time it took for the girl (who must not have access to YouTube) to finally, desperately figure out that the dang thing is held parallel to the cylinder and fastens on the lip. Which is something I wonder if I’d have figured out…ever.
In 23 tweets, since deleted, Bean Dad wrote about every frustrated exchange he and his daughter had, e.g.:
So I said, “How do you think this works?” She studied it and applied it to the top of the can, sideways. She struggled for a while and with a big, dramatic sigh said, “Will you please just open the can?” Apocalypse Dad was overjoyed: a Teaching Moment just dropped in my lap!
We’ll see just how teachable in a moment. His tweets continued to describe the afternoon:
I said, “The little device is designed to do one thing: Open cans. Study the parts, study the can, figure out what the can-opener inventor was thinking when they tried to solve this problem.”…
When the girl finally did puncture the can with the little wheely thing (really, how much do any of us really know about can openers?), she was triumphant, and dad was too.
Then came the commenters.
Like beans exploding from a pressure cooker, they were all over the place. Some praised dad for believing his kid would come through. Through his tough love, his daughter learned to be resourceful and earn her beans, said they.
But far more were more like, “If you are still not convinced this guy is a fuckbag, you may want to consider whether you are not also a fuckbag.” And, “Godspeed, shitgoblin.” And:
@PNWWonderWoman #BeanDad, in 50 years: “Sweetie, how do I *wheeze* operate my oxygen tank?” 59-year old daughter: “Well father, consider the respiratory and circulatory systems. Now don’t forget, your fine motor skills are horrible so you need to compensate.”
Pretty soon the haters came so thick and fast — some calling his actions child abuse — that Bean Dad took down his whole thread (preserved here). Then came the memes, of course. And then came the digging up of his prior tweets, some of which were shockingly and indisputably racist, anti-Semitic, etc. Or as one tweet put it:
Bean Dad‘s daughter is now about 6 hours into watching her dad try to learn how to close a can of worms.
One worm-can included the fact that the My Brother My Brother and Me podcast had a song by the group that Bean Dad was lead singer for in the 2000s, The Long Winters (prescient name!), as their theme song. No more:
@MBMBaM We appreciate John letting us use one of his songs as the theme for MBMBaM for nearly a decade, but his response to today’s situation is emblematic of a pattern of behavior that is antithetical to the energy we try to bring to the things we do, and so it’s time for us to move on.
And, in the category of everything turns out to be strangely connected to everything else, Bean Dad also co-hosted a podcast with all-time Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings, who vouched for him on Twitter:
If this reassures anyone, I personally know John to be (a) a loving and attentive dad who (b) tells heightened-for-effect stories about his own irascibility on like ten podcasts a week. This site is so dumb.
This site is so…complex. Here are the questions the incident leaves me with:
When someone says or writes something you disagree with, on Twitter, in a newspaper, anywhere — is this license to dredge up anything else they’ve ever said publicly?
In truth, it does interest me to see that Bean Dad had posted disgusting tweets. It also made it much easier for me to categorize him. While some part of me had considered maybe there was something plausibly positive in his parenting decision that day — his belief that his daughter would figure out a truly confusing problem, and savor her perseverance and lightbulb moment — once I read Bean Dad’s past tweets I could very easily damn everything he did and said as cruel and reprehensible. It allowed me to label him, once and for all, as a jerk.
I’m not sure that’s something we should be doing, whenever faced with an idea that is new or ambiguous. Digging back, hoping to find evidence of a character flaw so we can easily dismiss or despise someone seems to allow us to hate instead of think. And how big a character flaw was the internet looking for? What would constitute “bad enough” to allow the free flow of damnation? And what if the flaw — the despicable tweet or comment or whatever — was a while back? Should that still be used as evidence against the person today, who may well have changed? What is the statute of limitations?
On a somewhat parallel plain: I’m not very happy about the pastime of publicly second-guessing parenting decisions. This hobby has had serious real-world repercussions. For instance, sometimes a child is allowed to play outside without supervision, or a child wanders off and it takes a little while for the parent to notice. These are normal situations. But in actual cases like this, onlookers have called Child Protective Services simply because they believe that this not something THEY would ever do — take their eyes off their kids.
Absent real abuse, I’d rather us not be jumping in. Jumping in on Twitter normalizes the practice of hating and shaming as a virtuous thing to do. Jumping in on real-world parenting situations does the same. But being a virtuous child saver requires actually saving kids — not sic’ing the authorities on people we disagree with, dislike or disdain.
Judging people as quickly and harshly as possible may be a normal human impulse. But it is heating up faster than a bubbly pot of baked… well. You know.