Free-Range Kids

Bean Dad Canceled After Letting 9-Year-Old Daughter Figure Out a Can Opener

Second-guessing other people's parenting decisions has become a national pastime.

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If you check out this thread that's been burning up Twitter, you will read a story almost as long as the six-hour ordeal the dad describes, which began when a daughter wanted some baked beans and a father, John Roderick—a.k.a. "Bean Dad"—told her to open a can and heat some up.

The problem?

Said daughter, age nine, had never used a can-opener, and dad decided not to 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.

In 23 subsequently deleted tweets, Bean Dad wrote about every frustrated exchange he and his daughter had:

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 spilled on the floor, they were all over the place. Some praised dad for believing his kid would figure it out. Through his tough love, his daughter learned to be resourceful and really earn those beans.

But many others chimed in with less appreciative commentary: "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:

Pretty soon the haters grew so vocal—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 and anti-Semitic. 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 a podcast—My Brother, My Brother and Me—featured a song by a musical group that included Bean Dad in the 2000s. No more:

This incident leaves me with several questions.

First, when someone says or writes something you disagree with on Twitter, in a newspaper, or anywhere else, is this license to dredge up anything they've ever said publicly?

In truth, it does interest me 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 that 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 we're 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.

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 these, onlookers have called Child Protective Services simply because they believe that taking their eyes off their kids for one moment isn't something they would ever do.

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 protector requires actually protecting kids, not sending the authorities after people we disagree with, dislike, or disdain.

Judging people as quickly and harshly as possible may be a normal human impulse. But it's heating up faster than a bubbly pot of baked beans. (And now I'm hungry.)