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What Does Hating on Bean Dad Mean?

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.

The problem?

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.


Photo by P.O.sitive Negative on Unsplash

4 Responses to What Does Hating on Bean Dad Mean?

  1. James January 4, 2021 at 3:16 pm #

    Maybe this guy is a jerk. But I’m struggling to figure out where in this story he acts like one. His daughter had a problem. I’m assuming that the daughter wasn’t starving. The father made a conscious choice to have her figure it out. He wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t watching football and ignoring her, he was not, in any way, an absentee parent. He was fully involved, just not in the way his daughter wanted. Which….look, the girl is 6, a major part of being a parent is making kids do things they don’t want, like getting shots, or going to school, or learning to take care of themselves. The kid may not be happy about it, but in the end she’ll benefit. Or it’ll be a wash, and become a funny story they tell each other around a campfire.

    I find it really hard to blame the dad, because I sort of do the same thing. We keep breakfast food that requires minor cooking (microwave or toaster oven) in the house, and have taught the kids how to cook it. This allows us parents to do other things in the morning. Sometimes we even sleep in a bit while the kids make breakfast and watch cartoons on Saturday mornings. It doesn’t hurt the kids, and it gets them started learning valuable life lessons–how to cook, cooperation (my daughter can’t open the freezer, so she needs to ask for help), and that they can do things themselves, among other things. I don’t make a production out of it, the way this father did, but then that’s my personality; other people do things differently, and that’s okay.

    I think that last bit is the important bit: it’s okay to do things differently. We tend to forget that today. Far too many people assume that because I would never do that, or worse because I believe I would never do that, it therefore is wrong. And that’s simply not true. I think a large part of it is the belief that we all must do the absolute best for our children. Obviously if something is best, anything else is worse; obviously if we must do it, failure to do it is a harm. Therefore any deviation is, by definition, harm to the child. What’s missing from this equation is the child. What’s best for my middle child is very different from what’s best for my oldest. What’s best for me to do with/to/around them is different from what’s best for my wife to do with/to/around them, or for my father to do with/to/around them. The individual relationship is what matters.

  2. Emily January 5, 2021 at 1:38 pm #

    I would have let Nine try to open the can of beans, and then shown her if she couldn’t figure it out, and then MAYBE done it for her if she still couldn’t do it after a reasonable attempt. I wouldn’t have let it go on for six hours. Also, as for the poster who prophesized a situation 50 years in the future where the father asks his daughter for help operating his oxygen tank, and she tells him to figure it out himself, I don’t think it’d take that long. I can see something like that happening a few days or weeks into the future, with a computer, smartphone, tablet, Smart TV, or some other piece of technology that’s simple for Nine as a digital native, but not so much for her father. A lot of things that we take for granted as adults, are actually really difficult for children. I remember not being strong enough to blow up a balloon until I was seven or eight, or use a can opener until I was probably eight as well; maybe closer to nine. I remember a time when my brother and I wanted canned pasta for breakfast (for some reason), and we couldn’t figure out the can opener, and we weren’t allowed to use the stove or the microwave, so we attempted to get the lid off of the can with a paring knife (breaking the tip off the knife in the process), dripped the pasta and sauce from the hole onto a toaster oven pan, and then proceeded to cook the pasta in the toaster oven, before my parents woke up. I was maybe six or seven then.

    We’re also missing another piece of information: Did the dad deliberately try to humiliate Nine in the process? If I’d been in her shoes (even as an adult), that would have just made me shut down, and I wouldn’t have been able to do what I was trying to do. Was Nine allowed to “give up,” or decide that she’d have something else to eat, if she couldn’t figure out the can opener, or did she just have her heart set on baked beans? The latter doesn’t seem that plausible after six hours–by then, she must have been legitimately hungry. At that point, most people would say, “forget it, I’ll just make myself a PBJ,” or whatever, if that’s an option. I remember an incident when my mom asked me to help her to hook up the hose for the spring, but it was still cold outside. I was an adult then, but I couldn’t do it, because, cold hands, cold metal, and it just wasn’t going together. On a warmer day, it probably would have worked fine. Anyway, I didn’t want to break the hose attachment in the attempt, so I admitted defeat. My mom got angry with me for not “persevering,” although, breaking the hose attachment would have also made her angry, and so, I was in a lose-lose situation. That’s not fair to do to anyone, let alone a child, and, just like the hose attachment, it’s definitely possible to break a can opener by trying to use it improperly.

    So, if the dad presented this as a fun challenge, he was fine. If he’d been willing to help after Nine legitimately couldn’t do it (I’d say 30 minutes maximum, if nobody had anywhere else to be), then that would have been more reasonable. If Nine had been allowed to forgo the baked beans for another food that was easier for her to prepare, then that would have been okay as well. But, giving her no option other than to struggle to open the can for six hours, was too much. Maybe this story has a “happy ending,” because she was able to open the can in the end, but with a little bit of assistance from Dad, Nine could have still learned to open cans, been able to do it herself from then on (assuming she had the dexterity and hand strength), but it would have happened without the whole drawn-out process, which was probably unpleasant for everyone involved.

  3. common sense January 5, 2021 at 2:17 pm #

    haven’t watched the video so….. if he withheld food while she was figuring this out, yeah he’s a jerk. if she was trying to do it off and on for six hours while doing other things, picking it up and putting it down I feel that’s fine. it becomes a puzzle you put down for a while and let your backbrain work on it for a while then try again.

  4. Emily January 5, 2021 at 5:35 pm #

    @Common Sense: I actually went back and read the whole Twitter thread. Nine said that she didn’t want beans after all, and then Dad said that “nobody would eat anything else” until Nine figured out how to open the can. So, he withheld food not only from her, but also from himself, during that time.